Only a few days separate us and the opportunity to see the 2013 Steelers in their first action. While most of the names we will see against the Giants Saturday night will be names we won’t see in the regular season, many of us will be anxious to see the crop of rookies in their first game.
From what I am hearing and reading it seems like defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is changing things up, mixing up schemes trying to get production from his OLBs, including first round pick Jarvis Jones. To me, that’s music to our ears, as I’ve written (and was lambasted for), Lebeau’s schemes have prevented rookies from making much, if any impact. Freeing up the explosive Jones will add more sacks and could force more turnovers. With Jason Worilds nursing an injury, this could provide Jones with a great opportunity to shine, especially since Worilds has a history of getting hurt.
I myself am high on WR Markus Wheaton, I think if he can pick up the offense quick, he can make a major impact. Like Worilds on defense, WR Emmanuel Sanders seems to get hurt every other game, and much like Jarvis Jones, Wheaton can take great advantage. I believe he will eventually be the number three receiver when the season opens, and with his 4.4 speed, will be the deep threat the team desperately needs. Adding to what he can potentially do on offense, teamed with La’rod Stephens -Howling, Wheaton may finally give the black and gold a legit return game.
Apart from Jones and Wheaton, the Steelers truly need second round pick Le’Veon Bell to shine. The team has not had a serious threat at running back since ‘The Bus’ retired. I never was big on Rashard Mendenhall, and now that he’s out in Pittsburgh west otherwise known as the Arizona Cardinals, he’s now their headache. Bell does possess some intriguing skills, most note ably, agility for a guy his size. Much like Bettis, Bell has nice feet for a bigger back and he is agile enough to hurdle over tacklers. Bell’s power will allow him to stay in on third downs and goal line plays, and has nice hands that make him a receiving threat out of the backfield. Scouring through fantasy football magazines, many so called experts have him the first rookie back drafted, feeling he will win the starting back job going away.
While Isaac Redman has been decent, he’s not someone who strikes fear in opposing defenses the way an Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster does. While nobody would ever mistake Redman for an elite back like those two, not having the threat of a running game has ground the Steeler offense to a halt at times. In the past, the Steelers often secured a lead by handing it to Bettis and let him grind defenses down. When they drafted Mendenhall, it was hoped he would pick up where ‘The Bus’ left off but that never happened. While it may take him some time to get going, I think Bell could be the guy. Redman will make the roster of course, but I’m not so sure Jonathon Dwyer does. Nothing against him, but Bell is a faster more athletic version of Dwyer and Redman is just too steady to cut.
If Bell struggles in camp and pre season the job will go to Redman and Bell will have to earn playing time. However, something tells me that when the Steelers line up against Tennessee on September 8th, Bell will be the lone rookie starter. My prediction is that when the season is over, Bell runs for 950-1000 yards and scores 8 rushing TDs. Not great numbers, but better than what we’ve had.
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