But there is plenty to be excited about for next season. The core of the team is under contract for next season and the Steelers will open the 2005 season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
This will be a position-by-position look at the Steelers from 2004.
Today: The linebackers
Linebackers have always been the key to the Steelers' 3-4
defense and the 2004 group didn't disappoint. But the Steelers
also got some surprising efforts from players they didn't expect
among this group throughout the season.
And unfortunately for the Steelers, they've only got six linebackers
under contract for the 2005 season - one of whom is super-bust
Starters Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and James Farrior are three
of the players under contract for next season, so the Steelers are
guaranteed to have a good group returning.
Haggans was solid, if unspectacular in his first season as a
starter. But he was better than the man he replaced, Jason Gildon. Still, the Steelers need more out of Haggans as a pass
rusher in 2005.
Porter is the vocal leader of the Steelers, something that's not
always a good thing, as evidenced by his pre-game fight with
Cleveland's William Green and subsequent ejection. That's not
exactly something you want your younger players emulating.
But Porter can make plays and he forces opponents to keep
track of him.
Farrior was outstanding in 2004, earning a spot on the NFL's
All-Pro team as the league's best interior linebacker. While
Farrior had made plenty of tackles in previous seasons, he
hadn't been a guy who forced many turnovers. That changed in
2004 and he'll be hard-pressed to match his output again in
Farrior's outstanding season helped make up for the fact that
Kendrell Bell was a no-show for the 2004 season. The 2001
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year basically took the season off
after. As has been the case throughout his career, Bell was
constantly nicked up. But unlike previous seasons, Bell refused
to play through any injuries, likely looking towards his impending
By season's end, the Steelers had written Bell out of their plans
and he'll hit the open market, though it's unlikely he will get the
kind of contract offer he would have expected before the 2004
Larry Foote stepped into the lineup in place of Bell and started all
18 games the Steelers played. Foote isn't the physical specimen
that Bell is, but he's a heady player who flourished under new
defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Foote's not a star, but he's a
solid player who can get the job done. He's a restricted free
agent, but it's unlikely a team will take a run at him. Foote's a
nice fit in the Steelers' 3-4, but he's probably not big enough to
play in the middle by himself in a 4-3.
James Harrison was signed by the Steelers in training camp
when Haggans was injured and turned out to be a find - again.
Signed by the Steelers as a rookie free agent, Harrison was
twice cut by Pittsburgh and spent the 2003 season in Baltimore
before being cut by the Ravens. He won't be released again any
Harrison played well filling in for Porter and Haggans. The
Steelers also worked with him on the inside as well and he
could push Foote for playing time in 2005.
Clint Kriewaldt is the team's other backup linebacker, though he
is on the team more for his special teams play than anything
else. In fact, Kriewaldt and Harrison may be the team's two best
special teams players, which pretty much guarantees them a
spot on the roster in 2005.
One player not guaranteed a spot is the enigmatic Jackson. The
team's 2003 second-round draft pick, Jackson hasn't been able
to make the transition from college lineman to NFL linebacker. In
fact, he doesn't look as if he even belongs in the NFL. He got a
chance to play a lot in training camp when Haggans was out with
a broken hand and got another opportunity to play when
Haggans suffered a groin injury at the end of the season. But
Harrison clearly outplayed him and has made Jackson
Dedrick Roper played well enough in the preseason to make the
53-man roster, but was pushed to the practice squad when the
team decided to keep Jackson instead. Roper's an intriguing
prospect, but if the Steelers draft another linebacker prospect
this year, he'll really have to show something on special teams
to make the roster in 2005.
Breaking down the Steelers/The linebackers
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