The Detroit Lions will face on of their more difficult road tests of the 2013 season when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 11. To get the Steelers perspective on preparations for the season I got together with Nick Kelly of Nice Pick, Cowher for a Q&A:
1. How would you assess the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do through the draft and free agency?
As much as I hate letter grades, so far I would give the Steelers a A- for their offseason so far. A lot of people think it was a mistake not signing Mike Wallace and that it will hurt them. While it would have been nice to keep him due to his speed that can take the top off of a defense, you don’t pay a guy 60 million to take the top off of a defense. With their running back Rashard Mendenhall, there was some bad blood last season between the two sides and they needed to part ways. As far as James Harrison was concerned, he was not the player he used to be, and the Steelers needed cap room so they felt either James needed to take a pay cut, or he would be released. The ironic part is, the Steelers actually offered him more than he realized he was worth on the open market. The only player they should have at least attempted to keep was cornerback Keenan Lewis. Ike Taylor is still playing at a fairly high level, but he is 32, which does not bode well for the long term. By not even attempting to sign Keenan, I feel they should have tried to keep him for maybe less, but in the end, Keenan wound up with the Saints, down where he grew up.
Regarding the draft, I feel the Steelers had a very strong draft. You can’t really argue much with what they did. They filled almost all of their holes, but it is still yet undetermined how well they will be filled. Out goes James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mike Wallace. In comes Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell, and Markus Wheaton. While these three rookies might not see the field a lot right away, their long term potential looks very promising.
2. Which Rookie are you most excited to see play in 2013 and why?
Running back Le’Veon Bell, mainly because I believe he has the best chance at the most playing time out of all the draft picks. OLB Jarvis Jones is not likely to see the field a lot mainly because of the complexity of the Steelers defense. Markus Wheaton will not likely see the field much right away because he has missed most of the Steelers offseason practices because of his schools rules. With Safety Shamarko Thomas, Qb Landry Jones, LB Vince Williams, and DE Nick Williams, I hope these rookied do not see the field because of the fact that they are all behind fairly penciled in starters. Bell still is in my mind the favorite to start at running back because he is one, and all around back, and two, the talent behind him is not very strong. There are a lot of good role players, but none to me look like feature backs. Bell can run up the middle, run outside, hurdle defenders, and he can catch passes out of the backfield like a receiver. Bell has been overlooked, but not long from now, everyone will know his name.
3. What is the biggest question that still needs to be answered heading into training camp?
To me the biggest question is can players in contract years such as Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jason Worilds. These three players need to produce or they could be on a new team next year for a lot less money than they wanted. All three are projected to start, but they have three young players nipping at their heals in Cam Heyward(Ziggy Hood), Markus Wheaton(Emmanuel Sanders), and Jarvis Jones(Jason Worilds). Either way, it is a win-win situation for the Steelers because this competition will only make the position groups stronger.
4. What are your expectations for the team in 2013?
As much as I wish I could say the Steelers will be going 16-0, that is obviously unrealistic. With such a strong division in the AFC North, its realistic to think the Steelers could be 8-8, but after last years 8-8 season, the entire team seems very hungry to do much better than 8-8. Looking at their schedule, its realistic to think they could end up 11-5. Are the Steelers super bowl favorites? No, but you can’t count them out of the running.
5. Right here, right now, are you marking down the game against the Lions as a win, loss or toss-up?
I am marking the game against the Lions as a toss-up mainly because I feel like the Steelers and Lions are a good match for each other and both teams could beat each other on any given day. The Steelers have a passing defense that is one of the best in the league, so while it is extremely difficult to stop Calvin Johnson, it is more realistic to try and contain him. I feel like if the Steelers secondary is on their game, they can do this. Reggie Bush may be an “X” factor because the Steelers defense is designed to stop the big play so their will be opportunities for Reggie Bush to beat them underneath. As far as the Detroit defense is concerned, the defensive line definitely scares me. I feel like the Steelers new and much improved offensive line can keep them somewhat in check, but Ansah, Fairley, and Suh all are very good players. At least to me, their is no clear winner, so I look forward to November 17th when the Steelers take on the Lions.
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