Bires: Youth served on Steelers
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
Tuesday December 7, 2010 11:06 PM
PITTSBURGH — Last year after the Steelers missed the playoffs, Art Rooney demanded change.
In 2010, he wanted a more effective running game. He also wanted the coaches to do a better job developing younger players.
At this point of the season, it’s clear Mike Tomlin is following orders.
After ranking 19th in the NFL in rushing last year, the Steelers are 10th after 13 weeks.
And as far as Tomlin and his staff cultivating young talent, look at the contributions the Steelers are getting from their rookies.
At center, there’s Maurkice Pouncey. When the Steelers decided to take him in the first round of this year’s draft, they knew he had intriguing potential. But Pouncey has played much better than anyone could have expected. He’s the first rookie to become a regular starter since tight end Heath Miller in 2005.
Then there’s wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. With each game, they’re progressing and earning the respect of Ben Roethlisberger.
A few weeks ago, Sanders surpassed veteran Antwaan Randle El as the No. 3 wide receiver. Even Brown gets more reps than Randle El in four-receiver sets.In Sunday night’s win in Baltimore, Sanders (3) and Brown (3) both had more catches than veteran Hines Ward (1). In the last three games, Sanders (15) has had nearly as many passes thrown in his direction as Ward (17).
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Two other rookies — linebackers Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester — are regulars on most special teams and playing quite well.
Besides the contributions the Steelers (9-3) are getting from their rookies, they also have several second-year players chipping in.
Three of 11 starters on offense right now are second-year players: wide receiver Mike Wallace, fullback/tight end David Johnson and right guard Ramon Foster. Ziggy Hood, last year’s first-round draft pick, has been starting at defensive end since Aaron Smith got hurt in October.
And if not for the hard-running of second-year running back Isaac Redman, the Steelers may have lost Sunday night to the Ravens. Redman showed great determination by breaking two tackles and scoring on a 9-yard, game-winning TD pass late in the fourth quarter.
“One of the things we have to do is probably get better at developing our younger players,” Rooney told The Times last January. “We need to have guys be able to step in maybe a little earlier. We have some good young players on our roster who can step up and make a difference.”
To be sure, not every one of the Steelers’ younger players is stepping up and contributing. But many of them are, and that bodes well for the Steelers as they head down the home stretch.