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Old 07-23-2006, 06:56 AM   #1
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Default Can We Keep It Rolling?

Can Super Steelers keep the good times rolling?
Sunday, July 23, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Just five months and 23 days after they became the first team in National Football League history to literally travel the road to Super Bowl victory, the Steelers will report to training camp Friday at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, looking to follow in the historic footsteps of the New England Patriots rather than the ignominious foibles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens.

Much like the Patriots, who won three Super Bowl titles in four years, beginning in 2001, the Steelers have positioned themselves to sit on the same precipice of success, thanks largely to a roster that returns most of the key performers and all of the team's core players from last season's improbable run to the championship.

To be sure, they will head into the 2006 season without three starters from last season's 15-5 team that finished with eight consecutive victories -- receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen and safety Chris Hope. And, perhaps more significant, they will begin a new season without running back Jerome Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, the first time in 11 years there will not be a 255-pound Bus in the backfield.

But the pieces to build a third season on top of a foundation that has produced 31 victories the previous two seasons -- more than any other NFL team -- are solidly in place. Even the injuries sustained in a June 5 motorcycle accident by Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, have healed quicker than anyone expected, prompting even Roethlisberger to proclaim he will be ready to go for training camp.

Still, the Steelers will proceed cautiously with their third-year quarterback, making sure he is able to withstand hard hits to the head before they decide to play him in a preseason game, perhaps even a regular-season game. Roethlisberger suffered a large amount of trauma to his face and head when he struck a car and was thrown from his motorcycle -- his jaw was broken in four places and his nose and orbital bone also were fractured -- and the Steelers will not risk his long-term future for the sake of trying to win an extra game.

The Steelers discovered Roethlisberger's impact on the team last season, when he played and when he didn't. Two of their five losses during the regular season came when he didn't play. A third loss -- in Indianapolis on Nov. 28 -- came in his first game back after missing three games because of knee surgery. In two years, the Steelers are 27-4 when Roethlisberger has started.

Last year, the Steelers entered the 2005 season thinking they could be a better team and not have a better record than 2004, when they were 15-1 in the regular season.

This season, with 19 of 22 starters returning from the Super Bowl, the Steelers have a chance to pull off a double play -- have a better record and be a better team than last year, when they were 11-5 in the regular season.

"I think we have put ourselves in good position after winning a Super Bowl," coach Bill Cowher said on draft day.

Indeed, here's why:

The loss of Randle El will not drastically impact the offense because the former No. 2 draft pick had just 35 catches and caught just one touchdown pass during the regular season. The addition of Santonio Holmes, the No. 1 pick from Ohio State and a receiver with big-play ability, could strengthen the position. Randle El's loss will be felt on punt returns, though Holmes and Florida State's Willie Reid, a No. 3 draft pick, were two of the best returners in college football last season.

Hope, a two-year starter who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency, will be replaced in the short term by Ryan Clark, whose biggest responsibility will be to act as a safeguard for strong safety Troy Polamalu, who is allowed to roam in the Steelers' defense. Long term, the position will eventually go to rookie Anthony Smith, a No. 2 pick who is smart, instinctual and a sure tackler.

Despite playing very well each of the past two seasons, von Oelhoffen will be 34 and was nearing the end of his career. His departure allows Brett Keisel, maybe the team's best pass-rushing lineman, to become a starter. The run defense might suffer early with Keisel, but his long arms and ability to get to the quarterback should ease some of the burden on Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, who led NFL linebackers in sacks in 2005.

The biggest issue facing the Steelers, aside from Roethlisberger's return to health, is the departure of Bettis, who retired after winning the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit. Bettis still flashed moments of grandeur last season -- his 5-yard touchdown run against Chicago, in which he ran over linebacker Brian Urlacher, reminded of a younger Bus -- but even the coaches knew he was not the same running back.

On the field, Bettis will be replaced by Duce Staley, who, when healthy, is a more productive runner. Staley, though, has missed each of the past two seasons with injuries. But, off the field, Bettis' impact in the locker room is difficult to replace.

Still, unlike past years, those issues are not of tantamount concern. And the reason is Willie Parker, a rookie free agent in 2004 who became the starter in training camp last season and never let go.

Parker rushed for 1,202 yards, had nine runs of 20 yards or longer and his 4.7-yard per-carry average was second best in the AFC among 1,000-yard backs. Oh yeah, and he broke open the Super Bowl with his 75-yard touchdown run to start the second half.

Since 2001, when they went to the AFC championship game, the Steelers are 55-24-1 in the regular season, a record surpassed only by the Patriots (58-22) among NFL teams. It was the Patriots who twice stood in the way of the Steelers getting to another Super Bowl, beating them in the AFC title game in Heinz Field in 2001 and 2004.

Now, as they get ready for training camp, can the Steelers maintain the same success as the Patriots? Can they repeat as Super Bowl champ?

Remember: Even the Patriots failed to make the playoffs the following year after winning the Super Bowl in 2001. The same thing happened to the Ravens in 2000 and Tampa Bay in 2002.

There hasn't even been repeat success for Super Bowl losers. The past five losers in the Super Bowl were a combined 31-49 during the regular season the following year. None made the playoffs. In fact, the last Super Bowl loser to have a winning record the following year was the Tennessee Titans in 1999.

The Steelers can choose their own path in 2006. It all starts Friday.
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Old 07-23-2006, 08:58 AM   #2
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Default Re: Can We Keep It Rolling?

Another good post 83......

i read this in the paper this morning......can you believe it???...the Steelers are practicing one week from today!!!!
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Old 07-23-2006, 09:50 AM   #3
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Default Re: Can We Keep It Rolling?

That's a pretty good read.
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