Over the weekend, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah constructed a list of three players which he believed could have “bounce-back” seasons in 2012. Even though the list featured zero Steelers players (Philip Rivers, Chris Johnson, and Josh Freeman were Jeremiah’s Top Three), there are a few guys on Pittsburgh’s roster which will be looking to improve upon their performances from 2011. So which Steelers do I believe will enjoy bounce-back seasons? Read on to find out why:
The 2010 season was a banner campaign for Lawrence Timmons as he posted 135 Tackles, 3.0 Sacks, 9 Passes Defended, 2 Interceptions, 2 Forced Fumbles, and 2 Fumble Recoveries. Before last season began, Timmons was signed to a contract extension, and all appeared to be going swell for the former Seminole. Yet as Craig alluded to not too long ago, Timmons saw a drop-off in production during the 2011 season, and really needs to step up over the coming months.
In 2011, Timmons saw his Tackle (93), Sack (2.0), Passes Defended (5), and Interception (1) numbers all decrease. While Timmons may have had an off year (especially in pass coverage in my opinion), part of it was not wholly Timmons’ fault, and was in turn a major contributor to his statistics and performance taking a dip.
Because of injuries to the Steelers top three Outside Linebackers, Timmons had to play an extended period out of position last season, and he definitely did not look comfortable when he filled in on the outside when he was rushing the passer, taking on blocks, or defending the pass. If Timmons can stick and stay at the “Mack” spot this year, we could see a huge improvement in his Tackle numbers as well as impact on the Defensive side of the football in general, because he will be playing the position he is the most familiar with during his career.
Plus, if Pittsburgh’s young Defensive Linemen (Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, and Steve McLendon) can team with Brett Keisel to eat up blockers in the run game, the athletic Timmons will be able to flow to the ball just like he did in seasons past and do damage against the run like he did over the course of the 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
As far as Timmons’ improvement in the passing game and his overall pass rushing goes, it would not hurt to see LeBeau use Timmons a little bit less in pass coverage, or used in more favorable matchups than he was last season. One such way would be to utilize and line Cortez Allen and/or Curtis Brown up against some of the more athletic Backs and Ends Timmons has had to face, and then allowing Timmons to provide help when the opportunity arises. As far as pass rushing, Timmons would be of great value blitzing through the A-Gap in some exotic packages. LeBeau has used James Farrior and Larry Foote in this manner over the years, and Timmons is a quicker and more athletic option than both players. Lawrence’s speed and explosiveness could create havoc in the middle of the Offensive Line, and also free up other pass-rushers if too much attention is paid to him.
While many consider (and rightfully so) Mike Adams and his development at Left Tackle to be the X-Factor for the Offensive Line (and Offense in general) and their success in 2012, Willie Colon’s transition and subsequent play at Left Guard will be just as important. And if all goes according to plan, Colon should enjoy himself a bounce-back year too.
In my opinion, Colon will simply have a solid season if he is able to play an injury-free and does a somewhat effective job at his new spot. Now the “old sage” on Pittsburgh’s young and talented Offensive Line, the 29 year-old Colon can help to mentor the younger Linemen as they develop and improve their overall games’. Colon has far and away the most experience in terms of starts along the Steelers’ projected starting unit (51 Regular Season, 4 Postseason), and has played in more “big games” than any other member at the professional level.
If Colon proves that his Achilles and Triceps are not issues, Pittsburgh’s Interior Offensive Line could inevitably be a force to be reckoned with this season. With an athletic trio consisting of Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro, Pittsburgh’s Offense as a whole will reap the benefits. The Steelers’ big Backs (Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay) will likely be the biggest beneficiaries of Colon kicking inside and the upgrades on the Interior, and the whole running game as a whole should improve if the unit can gel quickly. Furthermore, a Left Guard like Colon with a Tackle’s skill-set in pass-protection will only be an improvement over the sieve-like Chris Kemoeatu and some of his performances over the last couple of seasons, and most importantly Big Ben could take fewer hits because of Colon’s pass-protection upgrade over Kemoeatu.
After a Rookie season which saw him emerge as a reliable target for Big Ben as the season progressed (28 Catches for 376 Yards and 2 TD’s), Emmanuel Sanders sustained a “Sophomore Slump” last year. And while Sanders did not see his entire season essentially erased due to an injury like Colon, knee and foot ailments did keep Emmanuel out of the lineup for significant periods of time. and his stats took a bit of a tumble (22 Catches for 288 Yards and 2 TD’s). Much like Colon though, if Sanders comes back at full-strength this season and keeps himself healthy, he should be ready to bounce-back in 2012.
At full strength, Sanders has shown that he can be quite the effective option in the slot. When he was healthy, Big Ben looked his way often, and Sanders even led the team in Catches (6 Catches for 81 Yards) in the Steelers’ postseason loss to Denver six months ago. Luckily for Sanders, he should see many opportunities this season to take advantage of because of all of the talent Pittsburgh has in the pass catching department.
With all of the attention being paid to Antonio Brown and (hopefully) Mike Wallace, it will be Sanders as well as Jerricho Cotchery which might enjoy the open space in the middle of the field and extremely favorable matchups against Linebackers, Nickel/Dime Backs, and Safeties as well. With two Pro Bowl Wide Receivers in the lineup, the opposition will have to make some difficult decisions when Pittsburgh decides to go with three, four, and even five wide sets, and Sanders could very well be the one to reap the benefits and see his numbers steadily increase.
It is always nice to see players improve after the sustain a rough season. Whether it was due to playing out of position, injuries, or simply inconsistency the year before, there are few things which make me smile as a fan more than to see things go right for a guy after they sustained some hard times. These three will be especially important pieces for the Steelers to succeed this season and beyond, and the stage has been set for them to get things back on track. Let’s just hope that all goes according to plan and the rest of the team as well as them can step up their games’ in 2012.
Readers: Which players do you think will be ready to have “bounce-back” seasons for this club? Are there any others besides these three on the roster? Let me know.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com