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Old 02-07-2009, 04:33 AM   #1
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Default Return trip not out of question for Steelers

Return trip not out of question for Steelers
Saturday, February 07, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Is it too early to talk about Super Bowl LXIV, and the Steelers' chances to repeat?

The players and coaches certainly did not take long to talk about winning it all again next year, repeatedly proclaiming their desire to bring home another Lombardi. "Seventh Heaven" some have already dubbed it. Even coach Mike Tomlin held up seven fingers during the parade Tuesday.

The work that goes into that trip to Miami next year begins now as they decide what they must do before the players step back on the practice field again or into the weight room.

The Steelers certainly have a team that can accomplish that goal. They have the quarterback, the running back and the defense to do it. Their top priority, however, must be to build an offensive line equal to the task. It may have been the worst line toearn a Super Bowl ring.

Even if every offensive lineman returns, they would need help. They had difficulty blocking for the run and the pass throughout the 2008 season, and their short-yardage blocking in the Super Bowl underscored their inability to power-block.

Ben Roethlisberger may be one of the top young quarterbacks in the league, but how much longer can he escape the pressure or survive getting bounced around? He was sacked another 46 times the past season and, while some of those were due to his penchant for holding the ball and trying to extend a play, much of it also falls on his line. Hewas sacked 139 times in the past three seasons. That comes to 46, 47 and 46. Cliff Stoudt was sacked 51 times in 1983, the most in franchise history. Roethlisberger's past three seasons hold the next three spots.

Guard Kendall Simmons, whose Achilles tendon was torn in the fourth game, will return. What happens with unrestricted free agents Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex is anyone's guess, but the Steelers likely will make offers to all four.

Rookie tackle Tony Hills, a fourth-round draft choice, did not play this season and will join the mix, as will tackle Jason Capizzi. Finding good linemen in free agency is both difficult and expensive. Getting a top-notch lineman at No. 32 on the first round of the draft also is iffy.

But they have to try. Their problems on the line come in part because they've ignored it for too long in the draft, such as two years ago when they spent two picks on a punter and their third-round pick on a backup tight end who cannot block.

Their backfield situation is a good one. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder has healed, and he will join Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, a good free agent find last year, as the top backs.

They also may need to address their wide receivers. Nate Washington, who was their best deep threat until Santonio Holmes stole the postseason show, is an unrestricted free agent. If he leaves, untested Limas Sweed will move up, but they have precious little behind Hines Ward, Holmes and Sweed.

Not much more could have been asked of their defense. Their line played well despite the questions of age and depth entering the season. Those questions, however, will persist because the linemen will be one year older and there is just one under 30 among the top six -- backup end Nick Eason, who will turn 29.

Tomlin proclaimed last year that they must get bigger and better on both sides of the line, and they did neither.

Another potential problem comes at cornerback. If they are unable to sign Bryant McFadden, their corners will be Ike Taylor, William Gay and Deshea Townsend. Gay had a promising season and was rotating every third series with McFadden on the left side. They need depth and, perhaps, someone to challenge for a starting job if they lose McFadden.

The linebackers have become the strength of the defense. They had five good to great linebackers this season, and all will return if the Steelers decide to keep Larry Foote. Also, Bruce Davis, their third-round pick, might be ready to enter the mix after a year's apprenticeship while converting from college defensive end to outside linebacker.

The safety position is in good hands with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, but depth also has to be addressed there.

The most-improved area of the Steelers was their special teams coverage of kickoffs and punts. Daniel Sepulveda will return as their punter after recovering from ACL surgery last summer. Jeff Reed ranks among the NFL's most-reliable kickers. Santonio Holmes became a dangerous punt-returner once the coaches permitted him to do it. They need to find a kick-returner who carries a threat of more than reliably returning the ball to the 23.

Provided they can improve their play in the offensive line, all signs point to the Steelers having the kind of talent that can make a run at winning a second consecutive Super Bowl. They are tied for third in the Bodog odds to win Super Bowl LXIV at 10-1, along with the Giants. The Patriots are 8-1 and, for some reason, the Cowboys 9-1.

One more thing the Steelers have going for them in 2009 is their schedule. They have the fourth-easiest schedule in the league based on 2008 records of their opponents: 110-144-2 (.434). And everyone now knows what strength of schedule means to a team's chance of winning a Super Bowl.

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Old 02-07-2009, 09:24 AM   #2
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Default Re: Return trip not out of question for Steelers

All ready posted.

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