Only one month remains until the Steelers head off to training camp, and I for one cannot wait for the preseason to start. Yes, I am a football junkie so I will watch every preseason game, special attention of course focused on the black and gold.
Most of us can only imagine what the season will hold, and I’ve spent some time assessing what I think the team’s 2013 season will be. I think the team will have a rocky road this season and next off season and unless they change the way they’ve been doing things, it could be even rockier past that. However, I did really like their 2013 draft and as long as Big Ben is under center, they always have a chance.
One of my concerns is the health of tight end Heath Miller, not only is he Roethlisberger’s security blanket, he’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Every so often he comes up with that huge catch in the clutch, lumbering for a big gain and putting the team in position to win. I feel he’s easily a top 10 TE, perhaps top 5 after Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski,Vernon Davis, and Jason Witten. I’m not usually this biased, but Miller is a complete player, perhaps more so than any of the four I just mentioned. I just feel he is very underrated by the rest of the so called experts.
Thinking of Miller got me thinking of all the other players who have proudly worn the black and gold. Certainly we know the stars and hall of famers through the years, but I came up with a quick list of ten players whom I think we need to appreciate a little more. Some of the names may surprise you, while others may make you head for past media guides.
1. John Stallworth.
A hall of famer underrated? Yes, I don’t think Stallworth has received enough due for his nearly fourteen years of solid, consistent and at times spectacular play. He came up big in Superbowl wins over the Cowboys and Rams and provided a nice veteran compliment to Louis Lipps in the mid 80′s
2. Bryan Hinkle
Began playing alongside Jack Lambert and Robin Cole and continued into the early Bill Cowher years. Unspectacular, but solid and should have made a Pro Bowl or two.
Underrated only because he was making Pro Bowls before the dynasty years and proved to be a nice compliment to Ham and Lambert from 1974-76.
His career began with the last of the four Superbowls in the 70′s and played until Noll’s last year with the team. Solid steady olayer who was good in coverage and good at plucking enemy passes.
Led the team in rushing through most of the mid to late 60′s. Not fast, but a tough runner who was good at catching passes out of the backfield. Once Frenchy Fuqua came in during the 1970 season, Hoak’s career ended, but for five years he was a very good all around back.
For a time he was one of the more feared defensive tackles in the game and there were some who would’ve rather faced Mean Joe than Holmes. Sadly more remembered for his famous arrowhead haircut than for his play, but he is the most underrated member of the front four during the Steel Curtain heyday.
7. Mike Merriweather
The first of the team’s great pass rushers from the OLB position. He set the standard for Pittsburgh that the team’s 2013 first round choice Jarvis Jones is trying to continue today. Sadly his contract demands drove him out of Steeltown, but in his prime he was certainly on par with Rickey Jackson and Andre Tippett, two hall of fame players.
8. Neil O’Donnell
Okay, go ahead and cringe and curse, but think of the garbage they had before him: Mark Malone, David Woodley, Todd Blackledge and Bubby Brister. NOW go ahead and cringe at that list. Before his bonehead interceptions that killed their chances of winning what would have been their fifth Superbowl, O’Donnell was actually a decent passer and field general. Not dynamic, but steady.
9.John L. Williams
Ask Barry Foster and Bam Morris about Williams. John L. was a classic fullback, paving the way for 1,000 yard rusher Foster as well as being a great receiver out of the backfield. He would later be replaced by Tim Lester, but Williams was a very underrated player in the early Cowher years.
10. Ray Mansfield
Toss up here between Mansfield, WR Buddy Dial, and DE Ben Mcgee, but I’ll give it to the solid, steady center who began his career as a defensive tackle in the woeful Mike Nixon regime of 1965 but switched to center and gave the team a Pro Bowl center until Mike Webster took over in 1976.Began what has been a nice chain of players from Webster to Dermontti Dawson to Jeff Hartings and Maurice Pouncey.
So that’s my list. Now it’s your turn fans. Who should be on the list and who should be off? Who do you think are the most underrated players in Steeler history?
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