Six Who Must Ascend for the Steelers to Contend

The second week of camp Tomlin is underway at St. Vincent’s. Steel Curtain Rising opened camp by zeroing in on the players whose development was crucial to the Pittsburgh Steelers long-term future.

Today, we take a look at those who must take steps forward for the Steelers to contend in the here and now. These players are somewhat obvious, hence the post on the others came first, but these men hold, at least to one degree, the Steelers margin for success or failure in 2010 in their hands.

Here goes the list, in no particular order.

Troy Polamalu

OK. The last statement is a lie. Here’s what you need to know:

Polamalu only played in parts of five games last year, yet he tied for the team lead in interceptions.

The Steelers have zero chances of climbing the Stairway to Seven if Polamalu suffers an injury even half as severe as the one that cost him the bulk of the 2009 season.

Ziggy Hood

Ed Bouchette is a great writer whose opinion commands respect. But he was a little off-base when he sounded the alarm when Mike Tomlin declined to start Hood after Aaron Smith was lost for the year.

That was then, this is now. The Steelers need Hood to be starter-capable in 2010. Aaron Smith, Brett Kiesel and Casey Hampton, whose age was cited a liability at the outset of the 2008 off season, are 34, 32 and 33.

If their abilities have yet to appreciably decline, perhaps we cannot say the same about their durability. The Steelers must be able to rotate Hood into the line up without a loss in quality.

Early indicators show that Hood will meet the challenge.

Mike Wallace

Wallace was a rookie sensation, but he also benefited from twin advantages:

  • He was playing behind two Super Bowl MVPs
  • No one expected much because he was a rookie

Mike Wallace will sneak up on no one this year. Now he faces the responsibility of squaring off against the opposing team’s best DB and a slew of double coverage.

When Wallace won the Steelers 2009 rookie of the year award, Steel Curtain Rising mused about his future, observing that just under half of Steelers rookie of the year award winners went on to become super stars. The rest either became OK players (Jon Witman), disappointed (Kordell Stewart), or were one-year wonders (Kendrell Bell).

To succeed this season, the Steelers need Wallace follow in the footsteps of other rookies of the year like Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Carnell Lake and Ben Roethlisberger.

Bryant McFadden

Bryant McFadden’s draft day return shocked and surprised. Getting a starting corner for a 5th round pick is great value. On paper. Now McFadden must deliver.

Although the Steelers never said so, McFadden was expendable because he was never quite able to unseat Deshea Townshend until the 2008 season. Nor was he able to entirely reclaim his starting status from William Gay after in injury forced him to miss six games.

As mentioned here before, it is imperative that Keenan Lewis (and/or Joe Burnette) develop quickly, but if McFadden never gives coaches second thoughts about starting him during 2010, things will have gone well for the defense.

Maurkice Pouncey

It might sound dire to say that a rookie must step up if the Steelers are to have serious Super Bowl aspirations, but this is the truth.

Prior to Willie Colon’s injury, the Steelers two weakest positions on offensive line were right guard and center. (Although Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong argues vehemently that the order should be center and right guard.)

Pouncey was expected to serve a one-year apprenticeship at guard before moving on to center. The early read out of Latrobe is that Pouncey might challenge at center now.

Steel Curtain Rising will leave the guard/center decision to Sean Kulger, Bruce Arians and Mike Tomlin. But one way or another, the caliber of the Steelers interior lineman must improve this year, and Pouncey must be that source of improvement.

Rasshard Mendenhall

Four games into the 2009 season Mendenhall was marked by doubts about his ability and his attitude. Then he exploded for 1100 yards, and his touchdown-saving length of the field run and tackle against Kansas City showed Mendenhall is all about heart.

Still, in 2010 Mendenhall must do more.

Steel Curtain Rising has argued that the quality of the offensive line play steadily declined following the Denver game. There were many times when it looked like Mendenhall was just a block away from breaking a big one. At other times, he seemingly turned losses into modest gains.

Fair enough.

Willie Parker’s ability to pound the Miami Dolphins for 7.5 yards per carry during his final drive as a Pittsburgh Steeler suggest that Mendenhall still has something to learn about finishing his runs.

And then there’s the reason why Parker carried on that crucial drive. Tomlin knew Willie Parker would hold onto the ball, a skill that has thus far eluded Mendenhall. That has to change in 2010.
Honorable Mentions

The Steelers of course need Bryon Leftwich and Fozell Adams to play well, just as they need either Isaac “Red Zone” Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, or Frank “The Tank” Summers to step forward as a backup running back. But none are as vital to the Steelers success as the six players mentioned above.

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