Scouting the Steelers: Positional Analysis


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Ben Roethlisberger. Backup -- Charlie Batch, Brian St. Pierre.
    Roethlisberger has had more on his shoulders this season, and he's responded with the fourth-highest passer rating in the NFL. He's able to call on four wide receivers at times on first and second downs -- while taking the snap from under center -- and he also has the freedom to call the audibles on pass protections. Batch can start and win when called upon.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Willie Parker, FB Carey Davis. Backups -- RB Najeh Davenport, RB Gary Russell.
    Parker proved last season that 2005 was no fluke when he rushed for 1,494 yards, third in club history and his second straight season over 1,200 yards. He also showed that even though he is quick and fast, he's also durable because his 337 carries rank fourth in team history. The Steelers use a lot of one-back schemes this season, so Davis won't be on the field as much; he rarely touches the ball and has been used mostly as a blocker. Davenport is a solid backup.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Heath Miller. Backups -- Matt Spaeth, Jon Dekker.
    Coordinator Bruce Arians wants to use two and three tight ends on occasion. Miller, who is 6-5, can block and catch and has been a good target in the red zone. They might team him with Spaeth, a 6-7 rookie, when they get near the goal line. The tight ends will be on the move more in the new offense and will often be used in the backfield, more as H-backs, and split out wide.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes. Backups -- Nate Washington, Cedrick Wilson, Willie Reid.
    Ward shows no signs of slowing down even though he plays as physical a game as any wide receiver in the NFL. Ward always makes the tough catches in the middle of the field. Holmes is a legitimate deep threat and can cause problems for any defense. Wilson and Washington play the third and fourth receivers in no particular order and the Steelers use four receivers a lot this season, especially on first and second downs.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Marvel Smith, LG Alan Faneca, C Sean Mahan, RG Kendall Simmons, RT Willie Colon. Backups -- C/G Max Starks, G Chris Kemoeatu, C Darnell Stapleton, LT Trai Essex.
    Mahan was the team's only real UFA signing, and he has been a solid starter. Simmons kept his job in stiff competition with Kemoeatu, then was rewarded with a contract extension. Colon took the starting job from Starks, who held it the past two years. Faneca is upset with his contract, but he's played at his normal Pro Bowl level.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DE Aaron Smith, NT Casey Hampton, DE Brett Keisel. Backups -- Chris Hoke, Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason.
    Keisel has performed well in his first year and this year. He plays up and down, and also moves around along the line. Hampton is arguably the best nose tackle in the league and Smith is an underrated defensive end, a brute run-stopper who also gets heat on the quarterback -- he and Keisel put more pressure on the passer than the OLBs last season. Hoke is more than capable as a backup tackle, but depth is thin at end.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Clark Haggans, OLB James Harrison, ILB James Farrior, ILB Larry Foote. Backups -- Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Arnold Harrison, Clint Kriewaldt, Andre Frazier.
    Joey Porter is gone and nobody misses him thanks to James Harrison. Harrison is a premiere pass rusher and could be a Pro Bowler. The Steelers can call on their top two rookie picks, Timmons and Woodley, on their pass defenses to rush the passer in addition to the starters.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Ike Taylor, CB Deshea Townsend, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Anthony Smith. Backups -- CB Bryant McFadden, CB William Gay, CB Anthony Madison, CB Allen Rossum, S Tyrone Carter.
    Mike Tomlin, who cut his teeth in his first five years in the NFL as secondary coach in Tampa Bay, has spent time trying to improve a unit that underperformed last season. He re-installed Taylor as a starter after he was benched late last season. Townsend is a steady veteran. Part of the problem for the secondary in 2006 was the dropoff in the pass rush and the Steelers are hoping that they can improve the play in the secondary with a better pass rush. Polamalu has been battling injuries, but many expect him to play on Sunday.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter -- Daniel Sepulveda. Kicker -- Jeff Reed. LS Greg Warren.
    Sepulveda became the highest punter drafted by the Steelers in 29 years when he was taken on the fourth round -- they used a sixth-rounder to trade up to get him. He's a boomer with a good record of placing the ball inside the 20. Sepulveda will hold for kicks. Reed had a slightly off season but has generally been reliable, although his kickoffs need to improve.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular syndicated contributor to, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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