Steelers might be looking at a youth movement in 2013
In late December, the Steelers infrequently find themselves out of the playoffs — as they did last season. In mid-May, however, they're almost always considered to be one of the teams to beat.
Not this May.
As the Steelers resume practicing this week for the first time since they ended a disappointing 2012 season by losing five of their final seven games, they're regarded as one of those question mark teams that could be good again but also might be starting an uncharacteristic downslide.
“One of the favorite sayings in the NFL is, ‘We know Pittsburgh is going to be good,' ” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “But as sit here right now, Pittsburgh might be behind Baltimore and Cincinnati, and that's not normal. This is different.”
So is the Steelers' depth chart as they begin organized team activities Tuesday. And it's not just because the team is missing familiar names such as James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
While names on paper mean nothing with the season four months away, the depth chart might include more rookies in more prominent roles than perhaps on any of their teams since the super drafts of the 1970s.
Davis said the Steelers might eventually rely more on rookies than any other team, an abrupt change of pace from the Steelers Way.
“For the most part, the Steelers always put us in a deep sleep,” Davis said. “But they've pulled an Ichabod Crane. You wake up and it's, ‘Whoa, what's going on around here?' ”
That would be the biggest one-season roster makeover of the seven-season Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin collaboration. Here's how the unofficial depth chart looks at the start of OTAs. It almost certainly will change before training camp starts in late July.
Emmanuel Sanders Team employees insist he's training diligently and enthusiastically after Steelers matched Patriots' RFA offer.
Markus Wheaton* NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah says he might fit the Steelers better than any receiver in the draft. “He's got that feistiness and competitiveness like Hines Ward in his heyday,” Jeremiah said.
Plaxico Burress His heyday is long past, but he still hopes to be a valuable red-zone receiver.
Antonio Brown Needs to show even before camp starts that he's the guy. Period.
Jerricho Cotchery Possession receiver might play bigger role early in season if Heath Miller is out.
David Gilreath, JD Woods*, Reggie Dunn*, Kashif Moore*, Justin Brown* and Derek Moye (two ex-Penn Staters at same position)
Mike Adams He and Marcus Gilbert will compete from the get-go to be Ben Roethlisberger's blind-side protector.
Kelvin Beachum His versatility means he might show up anywhere on the line.
Ramon Foster One of those guys you don't appreciate until he's gone. And he stayed.
John Malecki Needs to hold off undrafted rookies Chris Hubbard* and Mike Golic*.
Maurkice Pouncey For Roethlisberger to stay healthy, Pouncey must, too.
David DeCastro Davis said the Steelers essentially have two first-rounders this season because DeCastro missed so much of last season.
Justin Cheadle and Nik Embernate*
Marcus Gilbert Will get a chance to supplant Max Starks at left tackle but likely will wind up here.
Guy Whimper The lone offensive line backup with considerable NFL experience.
Heath Miller Nobody knows when he'll be ready. Steelers need it to be sooner than later.
Matt Spaeth Mike Tomlin loves the guy, and that's why he's back.
David Paulson, Jamie McCoy and Zack Pianalto
Ben Roethlisberger This season might reveal whether he's reaching the prime of his career.
Bruce Gradkowski Davis said having him around allows the Steelers to bring Landry Jones along slowly.
Landry Jones* An intriguing draft pick. Is he Big Ben's eventual replacement or the next Dennis Dixon?
John Parker Wilson
Le'Veon Bell* Maybe it's not fair to label him as a starter from the start. But it's his job to lose.
Jonathan Dwyer Needs to show more consistency to hold off Bell.
Isaac Redman A team can carry only so many running backs. He must prove again that he belongs.
LaRod Stephens-Howling Biggest contribution might come as a kick returner.
Baron Batch and Curtis McNeal*
Will Johnson Came from nowhere to be the starter last season. Now must hold off David Johnson, who was hurt in first preseason game.
Shaun Suisham Wants to follow up best season of his career with a better one. Danny Hrapmann is back to push him in camp.
Greg Warren In his ninth season, few in the league are more consistent.
Ziggy Hood Fifth and final chance to prove he deserved to be a first-rounder.
Al Woods Lack of depth means he might make 53-man roster again.
Cordian Hagans* and Brian Arnfelt*
Steve McLendon Played in the shadow of Casey Hampton, and what a shadow that was. Now it's his turn.
Alameda Ta'amu Almost no way 2013 could be worse than 2012.
Brett Keisel Old reliable is still there, but for how much longer?
Cam Heyward Third chance for him to prove he deserved to be a first-rounder.
Nick Williams* and Omar Hunter*
LaMarr Woodley The key to the Steelers' defense? Woodley's conditioning might be the key to the whole season.
Chris Carter Didn't do much as a fill-in starter for James Harrison. Must do a whole lot more.
Jarvis Jones* What's this, two rookies listed as starters on the depth chart before they've gone through a fully organized practice? The Steelers didn't draft him to sit him.
Jason Worilds Couldn't beat out James Harrison, but who could? Now Jones is the challenge.
Adrian Robinson and Terence Garvin*
Larry Foote Knows the defense as well as anybody, and that's why the Steelers brought him back.
Vince Williams* Davis said of the sixth-round draft pick: “He hits anything that moves. He fits the style of play Pittsburgh likes.”
Sean Spence No evidence yet he will be ready to play in '13 following catastrophic knee injury.
Lawrence Timmons Can he play at a Pro Bowl level for a second consecutive season?
Stevenson Sylvester Special teams help keep him around.
Kion Wilson, Alan Baxter*, Marshall McFadden and Brian Rolle
Cortez Allen Steelers didn't look elsewhere after Lewis left. Now he must validate the confidence they have in him.
William Gay Returns to Steelers as the nickel back, is likely to play a bigger role.
Ike Taylor Hopes to show from start he's fully recovered from broken ankle that ended his ‘12 season.
Curtis Brown Everybody with the Steelers agrees this might be a make-or-break season.
Terry Hawthorne* Most rookie draft picks aren't coming off a disappointing final college season.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, Ross Ventrone, Josh Victorian and Justin King
Troy Polamalu Steelers wish they didn't have to cross their fingers every time he steps onto a field.
Shamarko Thomas* Rookie who hopes to show his big hits make up for his small size.
Ryan Clark Following Clark's twin-concussion season, Polamalu isn't the only safety whose health has become a worry.
Robert Golden and Isaiah Green
Drew Butler Average rookie season, must beat out Brian Moorman, who was Bills' punter for 11-plus seasons.
* Denotes rookie Sources: Ourlads.com; Steelers