Steelers' veterans pondering their futures after tough season
As the Steelers filed off Heinz Field for the final time this season, linebacker Larry Foote and nose tackle Casey Hampton shared a few laughs after ending a disappointing season with a 24-10 conquest of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
The Steelers evened their record at 8-8, but an uneven season left them with far more questions than answers. Perhaps the biggest question is the future of Foote, Hampton, linebacker James Harrison, wide receiver Mike Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
“I just want to be in a good situation, a good fit for myself, no matter if it's here or anywhere else,” said Wallace, an unrestricted free agent who was scratched from the game and placed on injured reserved with hip and hamstring injuries.
Amid the doubt is a seemingly brighter future for young players such as cornerback Cortez Allen and defensive end Cam Heyward, a former No. 1 pick forced into lengthy duty after veteran Brett Keisel went down with a knee injury late in the first half.
“Me and Hampton spent some time on the bench (after the game) cracking jokes,” said Foote, who started all 16 games after replacing James Farrior. “Hopefully, it's not our last time together.
“First, you've got to be wanted. Secondly, everything has to make sense. I'm still young and I feel good physically ... and I put some good film out there.”
“We were No. 1 in defense, and that's the thing I'm going to hang my hat on,” Foote added. “They might want to go younger, but you never know.”
Hampton isn't sure about his future, either.
“Foote and I have been together a long time,” Hampton said. “You never know what next year is going to bring.”
Harrison, who has two years remaining on his contract, insisted he's prepared to return next season even if means restructuring his contract for the second time in three years. He talked confidently about being physically fit to start organized team activities and minicamp.
“Change is part of the game, and no one can play this game forever,” said Harrison, who finished with a game-high 11 combined tackles and a sack. “Each year it's a different mix of people. It's nothing I can do about that. I'm just a player who works here.
“I'll wait for OTAs to roll back around and get out there, and whoever we've got, I'll hit the ground running. I believe I'll be back. I'll have time to do the proper therapy treatment that I'll need and rehab my knee. I won't be out there trying to get it good enough so I can play the next week.”
Harrison, Hampton and Foote were solid against a Cleveland offense that had at the helm quarterback Thad Lewis, who hadn't started a game since senior day at Duke three years ago. Allen, starting for an injured Ike Taylor, stood out for the league's top-ranked pass defense.
“We've got some young guys who can play,” Hampton said. “We've been grooming them for a while, and I'm excited about seeing what they can do.”
Allen had eight tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Heyward tallied four tackles, a half sack and a quarterback pressure in his most extensive work this season.
“I'm extremely fortunate to make the plays I've made,” Allen said. “I'm blessed the coaching staff has had confidence in me. We're just trying to get better. We know as time goes we'll be the ones who will have to step up.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.