Last season was a dream one for Bill Cowher, the Pittsburgh Steelers and all of the fans in the Steel City. Because in 2005, the Steelers finally did win one for the thumb.
Led by way of a second year quarterback, the Steelers became the very first team to win three playoff games traveling and the very first sixth-seeded, wild card team to fully capture a Super Bowl. It had been the fifth Super Bowl championship in team history, placing Pittsburgh in a tie with Dallas and San Francisco.
But this is the recent past. Now a new season is dawning and the question on the minds of football fans everywhere is, can the Steelers repeat in 2006?
Offense: Obviously the big concern has been Ben Roethlisberger and how he recovers from a June motorcycle accident that broke his jaw and caused numerous facial injuries.
He won't be around for training camp and he'll probably miss the beginning of the standard season. Will his timing, conditioning and strength be seriously lacking when he's finally ready to go? The clear answer compared to that question will determine how well Pittsburgh fares in 2006.
After taking the team to the championship game in 2005, Roethlisberger did one better last year, becoming only the 2nd player in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in his second year (the other was Kurt Warner for the Rams in 1999). The important thing to his success is he plays within offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's scheme and makes few mistakes. If he can't go to start the season, veteran Charlie Batch will start.
The running game is solid but'The Bus'will be missed. Jerome Bettis retired after 13 seasons and will require his 13,662 yards and 94 touchdowns into Canton very soon. His leadership and motivational skills were a big section of Pittsburgh's success. Undrafted free agent Willie Parker shocked everyone last season by winning the job in training camp and rushing for 1,202 yards and four scores. Duce Staley and Verron Haynes are capable backups. Dan Kreider is a blistering blocker at fullback.
Hines Ward (69-975-11) returns after another solid season but Antwaan Randle-El left via free agency and that created a big void for the Steelers to fill. Not just was he a good number two receiver, but he was deadly on special teams as well. Cedrick Wilson (26-487), Quincy Morgan and top draft pick Santonio Holmes, (if they can stay out of trouble), will battle for the quantity two slot. Regardless of who wins the job, Ward better prepare yourself for lots of double teams this season.
Heath Miller had a fantastic rookie year at tight end, grabbing 39 receptions for 459 yards and six touchdowns. He's a real weapon and will only get better with more experience. Jerame Tuman is an able backup.
The starting line is one of the greatest in football and returns all five starters for 2006. Center Jeff Hartings and guard Alan Faneca, both All-Pro performers, anchor the offensive line. Guard Kendall Simmons and tackles Marvel Smith and Max Starks make up the rest of the starting unit. Barrett Brooks, Trai Essex and Chris Kemoeatu are solid reserves.
Defense: The actual strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers is on the defensive side and that should be the case once again. Nine starters return from a product that gave up only 16 points per game and finished fourth in the NFL in total defense.
Casey Hampton mans the nose and is a work stuffing disturbance at nose tackle. Aaron Smith is at one defensive end spot, while Travis Kirschke replaces departed Kimo Von Oelhoffen at another end position. Rookie Orien Harris, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke and Rodney Bailey will dsicover time as well.
The Steelers have arguably the very best linebackers in the NFL and they'll be counted on once more to lead the defense. All-Pro Joey Porter (57 tackles, 11 sacks) and Clark Haggans (61 tackles, nine sacks) certainly are a force on the outside, while James Farrior (121 tackles) and Larry Foote (101 tackles) are just as disruptive on the inside. James Harrison, Clint Kriewaldt and Rian Wallace provide depth.
Whenever you talk about the Pittsburgh secondary one name leaps out. That name is Troy Polamalu. The hard-hitting, long-haired bruiser is rapidly becoming the absolute most dominant safety in the league. He's a Ronnie Lot type with a motor that never quits. Free agent Ryan Clark (57 tackles, three picks) moves into the free safety spot. Mike Logan, Tyrone Carter and rookie Anthony Smith will even see action.
Chris Hope took his 97 tackles and three interceptions to the Tennessee Titans, nevertheless the Steelers still have Ike Taylor (84 tackles), Deshea Townsend, Bryant McFadden and Ricardo Colclough at cornerback. Taylor and Townsend are the absolute most likely starters.
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