Steelers Are Contenders, BUT --

SCI's Jim Wexell says enough with the bouquets. It's time to examine the chinks in the Steelers' championship-contending armor.

LATROBE -- Thus far it's been all candy and nuts, so it's time for the buts, as in yeah the Steelers have a great quarterback, but what about the receivers?

Yep, it's time to throw a cold bucket of Gatorade on all of those high-falutin' feature stories we in the media have been throwing out there like bouquets to a conquering champion.

After all, everyone has weaknesses, and today I'm here to examine the Steelers', starting with ...

TIGHT END

Heath Miller missed the first few practices, yet the world did not end.

The Steelers won't be so lucky if it happens during real time because the guy behind him, 6-foot-8 Leonard Pope, is too tall to be a factor as a blocker, other than as a positional blocker. That comes with savvy and experience, which Pope has, but he's not about to blow anyone off the line with that high pad level of his. In fact, the Steelers abused him in the first half of Super Bowl 43, and that's why the Cardinals finally gave up on their running game in the second half – and that almost killed the Steelers. As a receiver, Pope is a massive target – if he ever gets to where he needs to be. Not much speed at all.

Is there any help beyond Pope? Well, I have my doubts about Weslye Saunders. This is a guy who was kicked off his college team and was then popped this offseason for abusing a medication reserved for ADHD patients. He'll miss three games, even though in his appeal he said he was using it to study the playbook. Really?

Additionally, Saunders missed most of spring workouts with a minor injury and is now on the sideline with tonsillitis.

Love the talent, and maybe all of these problems have solid reasoning behind it, but as the list of problems grows longer the eyebrows raise higher. He just doesn't seem like Steelers material to me.

The in-line answer might be David Johnson, but he works mainly with the running backs these days. So when coach Mike Tomlin needed someone, anyone, to challenge LaMarr Woodley in a TE vs. OLB drill, Tomlin called over D.J. and made a big deal out of it to Woodley, who proceeded to mop the floor with the best blocking TE on the team not named Miller.

For my money, Jamie McCoy is their guy. He's an underrated blocker and a fundamentally solid player. He's only 6 feet 3, but weighs 255, or 15 more than listed. He was on the practice squad last year but should've made their roster. Perhaps he'll make it this year.

Rookie David Paulson is an earnest kid and a hard worker and he runs some pretty routes and has reliable hands, but he needs a "redshirt" in order to get stronger. Put him on the practice squad now.

SAFETY

Troy Polamalu has answered my No. 1 pre-camp concern by losing weight and looking like the Troy of old by this point. He still wants to lose a couple of more pounds and is doing so by playing soccer with a group of kids in the morning and running sprints as one of the last off the field at night.

Another cagey veteran plays beside him, and Ryan Clark deservedly made the Pro Bowl last year.

Behind them are veterans Ryan Mundy and Will Allen, and both could be in danger of losing their jobs because of economics should the Steelers wish to extend Mike Wallace's contract before the start of the season.

So someone from the group of Damon Cromartie-Smith, Myron Rolle and Robert Golden needs to show something.

Cromartie-Smith's been on the practice squad for two years, and Rolle is a genius from Oxford University, but the guy the Steelers' brass really wants to see emerge this preseason is undrafted rookie Robert Golden, a converted cornerback who's showing great range and ball skills. But, will he come up and play the run? That's the question they want to see answered.

WIDE RECEIVER

Even if the Steelers aren't serious about pretending to move on without Mike Wallace, they're going to have to find a veteran receiver because the youngsters in camp are just too inconsistent.

Each day it's a different receiver stepping up, and then stepping down. Players such as Toney Clemons have just been too inconsistent. The seventh-round pick from nearby Valley High School makes some outrageous catches in traffic while helmets are drilling him in the low back. But then he'll drop an easy one and set the coaches off. And Clemons is supposed to be the No. 4 receiver right now at a position group that normally includes five.

The player du jour on Thursday was former Penn Stater Derrick Williams. The day before that guy was Tyler Beiler. And the day before that it was Jimmy Young. My favorite is David Gilreath, and perhaps his big day will come in a preseason game. But the key at this position will be which of the young guys can play special teams. Clemons and

Gilreath appear to be the best athletes, and even if they can't hold on to the ball they can run down the field and hit someone.

But Steelers fans certainly shouldn't be depressed by these few holes on the roster. They're a contender, I have no doubt about that, but – and there's that key word again – the weaknesses can't be ignored.


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