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Kovacevic: Lucky '13 for Steelers? Why not?

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 10:49 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Steve McLendon celebrates a defensive play against the Browns in December 2012 at Heinz Field.
Steelers NT McLendon looks forward

In the spirit of the new year, when a half-empty glass turns half-full with the tick of a clock, when unused two-point plays represent hope for the future rather than rockhead moves of the past, even an 8-8 season for the Steelers can be cast in a positive light.

Can't it?

No?

OK, then, I'll try instead — in the spirit, of course — to conjure up 13 good thoughts for the franchise going into 2013 …

• Heath Miller.

(Hey, this is easy!)

• You will love Steve McLendon — and not just because he seemed to make a splash play in half of the, oh, two or three snaps he'd get at nose tackle each game.

You'll also love the fire of a kid who, when I asked him Sunday to describe his style, replied: “My unique style is built from three guys: I want to be powerful and strong like Casey Hampton. I want to be smart like Chris Hoke. And I want to be elusive and quick like Jay Ratliff.”

That's Dallas' star nose tackle.

“Get those guys together, and that's Steve McLendon.”

• Dan Rooney is back.

He's 80 now, and the ship is still Art II's to steer. But if all the old man's presence achieves is avoiding another case of the team president picking offensive coordinators, that'll be plenty.

No matter your feelings on Bruce Arians or Todd Haley, it's hard to dispute that the dumping of the former was the front office's most un-Steelers-like move in quite some time.

• Might have been a mere snapshot, but it was nice to see Haley and Ben Roethlisberger walk off Heinz Field together after the game Sunday, chatting and laughing all the way into the locker room.

I've expressed doubts about whether they'll ever bond over the “Rosetta Stone” playbook, but the next visible sign of snarl between them will be the first.

• Lawrence Timmons.

If you don't know, then you haven't been watching.

• The Steelers appear to be $12 million over the salary cap for 2013, which sounds ominous. But remember that Omar Kahn, the Steelers' cap wizard who someday will heal the ozone layer in search of greater challenges, took on a similar task in 2011 and still scrounged up enough loose change to sign LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu and Timmons.

This won't be a big deal. One prominent guy will go — I'm guessing Hampton — but others will simply take cuts or defer.

After which, Omar can begin confiscating aerosol cans.

• Signing Keenan Lewis is paramount, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't get done. I know he's making some noise now, but he loves where he is.

If it doesn't happen, though, it shouldn't escape notice that Cortez Allen was terrific in covering for Ike Taylor. His five takeaways in the final two games accounted for a quarter of the team's season total.

“I am extremely blessed to make that happen,” Allen said.

Same can be said for the Steelers at a vital position.

• The Bengals are the new AFC North power?

Please.

• Eventually, the Steelers have to quit messing around with Max Starks, don't they?

Every summer, it's the same drama as to whether he'll be back. Roethlisberger dons a No. 78 jersey in Latrobe, Starks passes a physical, signs for the minimum, suits up in the nick of time and steadily holds down left tackle — the toughest job in football — game after game.

Starks pointed to his grass-stained socks Sunday and said, “I saved a piece of Heinz Field, just in case I do go.”

No reason for that to happen.

• Stop messing around with Ramon Foster, too.

Every summer, he's the backup at both guard positions, at least until others drop around him and he starts all year long. Yeah, i know a first-round pick went into David DeCastro and that Willie Colon can move mountains with a pink finger when healthy, but the latter hasn't made it through any of the past three seasons.

Durability counts.

Foster and Starks have two things in common, one being that they were the only linemen to avoid parentheses after their last names and the other being they're about to try the open market.

I know this one isn't likely but felt compelled to ask, anyway.

“It's possible,” Foster said Sunday with a grin, “because Maurkice Pouncey has generously offered to give up some of his pay to keep me.”

That apparently was news to the All-Pro center at the next stall: “I did what?”

• James Harrison will be kept, which is right, but maybe someone will challenge him to be much more of a leader than he's been known to be.

If nothing else, ask him to belligerently impose his rigid workout regimen on Woodley.

• Mike Tomlin.

See Timmons explanation above.

He's a good coach who had a lousy year. Happens.

They're the Steelers.

They've had seven losing seasons in 40 years.

The only one this century, 2003, was followed by a 15-1 gem the very next winter and the Lombardi the year after that.

Anyone really want to bet against a bounce-back?

Did I even mention the QB?

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