Starter: Tommy Maddox "B+"
After coming off the bench to replace Kordell Stewart against Cleveland, Maddox led the troops back to beat Cleveland in OT. The only thing about Maddox that scares Steeler fans are his interceptions, which come at very bad times. Maddox threw a late interception against New Orleans, which stalled a comeback, and his 2 interceptions in the Houston game led to 14 points and a disappointing loss. However, with the interceptions also came the ability to lead the team to comebacks in their last 2 wins of the season.
Backup: Charlie Batch "?"
Charlie Batch didn't see any action, or ever even sniff the playing field. Batch has stated he wants a chance to compete for the starting job, and since the Steelers chose not to re-do Maddox's contract, it appears he will get it.
The Steelers resigned Charlie Batch, but released Kordell Stewart. The Steelers also signed Pittsburgh native Tim Levcik, who went to school at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh. Levcik's a long shot to make the Steelers roster so there's the possiblity that the Steelers will use a high pick on a QB. Some mock drafts have the Steelers selecting Rex Grossman or Chris Simms. If the Steelers wait till the later rounds they could possibly pick up QB Ken Dorsey from Miami.
Starter: Jerome Bettis "C"
Jerome Bettis showed his age some this season, gaining only 600 yards and not leading the team in rushing for the first time ever as a Steeler. Bettis missed several games with nagging injuries to his knee. He has said he will be coming back, and starting next season although the Steelers might have other thoughts, especially after they find out the results of surgery to his knee, which should be any day now.
Backup: Amos Zereoue "A"
Amos Zereoue showed his stuff this season by leading the team in rushing and registering 3 one hundred-yard games. Zereoue was ready and awaiting the challenge to fill in for "The Bus", and he did. He took the majority of the carries in second half of the season and in the playoffs.
Backup: Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala "C-"
"Fu" was hurt almost all season, and has been quite a disappointment. Chris has never been able to stay healthy in a Steeler uniform. "Fu" was deactivated during the first couple weeks with bruised ribs. "Fu" also was deactivated for 5 straight weeks with a torn pectoral muscle.
Bettis has finished the last two seasons with a nagging injury, and Fuamatu-Ma'afala has never been able to go a full season without being injured. If a top RB is left on the board when the 27th pick comes up, the Steelers may select him. The Steelers have said the decision on Bettis will come after the draft, so that leads some to think he could be gone if a Lee Suggs or Larry Johnson is on the board at 27.
Starter: Dan Kreider "A"
If anything is consistent on the Steeler offense, it's the fullback Dan Kreider. Kreider was ready to do whatever the Steelers told him to do. Catch passes out of the backfield, take a hand-off up the middle for a first down, or lay Ravens LB Ray Lewis on his butt with a crushing block. Kreider recorded 18 receptions for 122 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Backup: Verron Haynes "B-"
Haynes, a rookie RB/FB out of the university of Georgia, took over for Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala when he was hurt. Haynes played very well on a special teams unit that wasn't very good. He also rushed the ball a couple times before he got hurt and was put on injured reserve.
Dan Kreider is still not signed, but I'm sure he will come to terms soon. Kreider has said he wants to stay with the Steelers. There isn't a very great chance the Steelers will use any pick on fullback.
Starter: Hines Ward "A"
Hines Ward made his second straight trip to the Pro Bowl by doing it all and contributing any way possible. If it was to block downfield on a run play, or even set up a key block for another WR, he did it. He totaled over 1300 yards on 112 receptions. With those numbers he set the team's record for most receptions in a season and most yards in a season by a Steeler WR. Ward and Burress both gained 1,000 yards for the second straight time.
Starter: Plaxico Burress "B+"
Plaxico was the Steelers' deep threat, averaging 17 yards a reception. Burress did have some bad games though, such as when he dropped several passes in a devastating loss to the Houston Texans. Other than that game, Burress was fairly consistent in his game play. He had the biggest game of his career against the Atlanta Falcons, recording 253 yards and setting a Steeler record for receiving yards in a single game.
Starter - Slot: Antwaan Randle El "B"
Randle El's first season as a fulltime WR was a pretty good success. El totaled over 600 yards of offense and 900 yards on special teams. Antwaan returned 1 kickoff for a touchdown during the regular season (Cincinnati), and also returned 1 punt for a touchdown in the post season to give the Steelers a much-needed spark in a comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns. El also had an apparent punt return for TD called back in the Tennessee playoff game due to a clipping penalty by Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. On the other hand, Antwaan also had his share of mistakes, such as fumbling 3 times while rushing the ball, and calling fair catch when he shouldn't and not calling it when he should.
Backup (4th WR): Terance Mathis "A" FREE AGENT
Mathis was always there when the Steelers needed him, making clutch catches all season, including a touchdown against the Saints during a failed comeback. Mathis was also a mentor for younger receivers Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El.
Backup (5th WR): Lee Mays "?"
The Steelers don't run a 5 WR set like they did back in the mid 1990's when they had Thigpen, Johnson, Hastings, Mills, and Cory Holiday, so we didn't get to see much of Mays as a receiver. Mays did get to play in the AFC Divisional playoff game when Burress went down. Lee turned on the jets and forced Titans Cornerback Samari Rolle to tackle him and pull an interference call rather than let Mays catch it for a touchdown. As a kick returner Mays did a pretty solid job, gaining over 600 yards on 32 returns with no fumbles.
If there is one solid position on this Steeler team besides the linebacking crew, it's wide receiver. With Terance Mathis not re-signing or being offered a contract, the Steelers will need another WR to fill the 4th or 5th spot. The Steelers could look to day 2 for a wideout to fill this spot.
Starter: Mark Bruener "C-"
Bruener ended the season on injured reserve for another season. Mark caught only 13 balls for 66 yards. Bruener has been very injury prone, appearing on the IR list almost every season as a Steeler tight end.
Backup: Jerame Tuman "C" RESIGNED
Tuman didn't have much better of a season than Mark but did play the entire season. Tuman recorded only 9 catches for 63 yards. This was the second straight season that Tuman came in for Bruener did a decent job of blocking.
3rd TE: John Allred "D" FREE AGENT
John Allred was signed before the season, and had been of football since suffering an injury in the 2000 season. Allred had no catches and didn't make good with the few opportunities of his playing time, dropping a couple passes. There is little chance that the Steelers will make an offer to keep the unrestricted free agent.
Reserve TE/FB: Matt Cushing "D" RESIGNED
Cushing was at the end of the depth chart for the whole season, but did see some playing time during the final weeks of the season. Matt only had 1 catch, though.
Mark Bruener is currently still listed on IR. Pittsburgh has re-signed TE's Jerame Tuman and Matt Cushing, and bought a receiving tight end in Jay Riemersma. This much signing activity at the position means that the Steelers are not planning on drafting a tight end and could also signal the end for Mark Bruener as a Steeler.
Left and Right Tackles
Starter (Left): Wayne Gandy "B" Signed with Saints
Gandy played good in his last season as a Steeler. Wayne wasn't called for many penalties but was flagged more this season then last. After spending 4 seasons with the Steelers, he left after Pittsburgh didn't offer him a contract.
Backup (Left): Mathias Nkwenti "?"
Nkwenti, in his second season as a Steeler, was inactive for every game. I cant really give him a fair evaluation.
Starter (Right): Marvel Smith "B"
Smith had a pretty good season protecting Tommy Maddox's (and Kordell Stewart's) blind side. Smith has been said to be the weak link in the Steelers line, but when it gets down by the goal line, Mike Malarkey is calling Off Tackle Right, and it's getting punched in.
Backup (Right): Oliver Ross "C"
Ross was signed to a large amount of money in the offseason when the Cleveland Browns tried to take him away as a restricted free agent. Ross came in and played wherever he was needed when someone on the line was injured, but really didn't show his stuff. Oliver could become the starting right tackle next season if no one steps up at the left side and Marvel Smith is moved over to left tackle. Another option, if Smith is moved to the left side, could be for Kendall Simmons to move out to right tackle and Oliver Ross move inside to right guard.
Reserve (Right): Josh Burr "?"
Burr is a 6' 9" monster, but was placed on the Steelers practice squad all of last season.
The Steelers have looked at some tackles that will be in the NFL Draft, but they also went out and signed RT Todd Fordham, who can play every position on the line. It may just come down to who is there when they pick each round.
Left and Right Guards
Starter (Left): Alan Faneca "A"
Faneca made the Pro Bowl for the second straight year and was the least penalized player on the line. Alan the Steelers' first round pick in 1998 and has been the starter 57 out of 62 games.
Backup (Left): Keydrick Vincent "B"
Vincent stepped in for injured Kendall Simmons for a couple games, and played very solid. Vincent is a monster at 6 foot 5 inches and 330 pounds. He was solid but will probably still be a back-p next season.
Starter (Right): Kendall Simmons "A"
Simmons stepped up his rookie season, taking Rich Tylski's vacated spot at right guard. Kendall proved to be a good pick and helped hold up the right side of the Offensive Line. If he hadn't been injured, he could have very well been a Pro Bowl player.
The Steelers' three guards are as solid as they come, plus there is sure to be a backup among whichever tackles stick with the team. There is no way the Steelers will look to the draft for help.
Starter: Jeff Harting "B"
Harting was injured during the season and was lucky to get his job back from Chukky Okobi. Harting's still solid but I think his game play dropped a little from last season. It could've been the injury, but he still played good.
Backup: Chukky Okobi "A"
Okobi stepped in when Hartings was hurt and the offense didn't miss a beat. Okobi is the heir apparent to Hartings and could dethrone him this season.
This is another position the Steelers are not likely to draft.
Editor's Note: 12th Man articles are those submitted by members of the Steel City Sports online community.