With camp about to open, Steelers fans are feeling optimistic. Bold predictions of an 11 win season abound, but in my opinion It's too early for such predictions. I want to see a few preseason games to see how some players perform and who will be healthy (both on this team and other teams) before I go making bold predictions.
But I will say this:
I think and expect to still think after the preseason that the 2001 Steelers are missing 3 things.
1. A real QB - meaning one who can read a D and place a thrown ball where it needs to go. (I don't think Kordell is this guy, but maybe the QB coach can make him a real QB. I have my doubts.)
2. A shut down CB. -Washington has peaked. He's a good CB, but not great. He can be beat and doesn�t hold on to what should be picks. Scott was to be this shut down CB when drafted, but injuries have limited him, maybe this is his break out year. It is a contract year so he may pick it up, but I again have my doubts. Scott just doesn't seem to have great instincts. Bottom line on these two is that they are quality starters, but that�s it. In fact, neither is dominate enough for the coaching staff to have one always play opposite of the other team best WR. Instead they stick to their side of the field, allowing offenses to create the match up they desire.
3. Some experience/development of our WRs - I expect Edwards to arrive/break out of his sophomore slump this year. Burress will probably improve, but I don�t expect him to really arrive until next year. Neither will be great without a QB who can get the rock to them.
Three needs. Two "maybes" (or "doubtfuls" depending on your outlook), time for players to develop, and a tough schedule doesn't say 11-5 to me. More like 9-7 again. Maybe preseason will change my mind, but I think we are still one year away. Of course that depends on what is done between now and then.
One thing that is sure to happen next year is the removal of one of our toughest foes from the Division. Not having to play the Titans twice should help. Furthermore, Burress will have another year to develop and learn the system. So will Kendrell Bell, Casey Hampton, Haggans, Logan, Hartings, Jones, and Tee Martin.
The bigger question is who will we lose? Yes, both starting CBs will be among the Steelers unrestricted free agents, as will OLB Jason Gildon and ILB Earl Holmes. Kevin Colbert seems to be more aggressive in re-signing our free agents, so I think it�s conservative and fair to expect two of the four to be back in the Burgh next season. Gildon or Holmes? It doesn�t matter, Haggans, Bell and/or Jones will be there to step in, and they will all have time in the system. That means we�ll need to draft or sign a starting CB. If Colbert follows the practice he started by signing Jeff Hartings, one of the top linemen available this off season, we could finally get the shut down CB that we�ve been missing since Berry Sanders threw that fateful juke that sent Rod Woodson�s knee one direction while the rest of him went another. Even if Colbert chooses to draft a CB, he�s shown a penchant for drafting big name college stars, i.e. � Burress, Hampton, Tee Martin, etc. If he continues this pattern with next years CB class, we could be in good shape. He might even be able to accomplish it in the second round, as it isn�t unusual for a rookie CB to start.
Now about the QB position. It�s been holding the Steelers back since 1996. Kordell either must transform into a decent passer or be gone. If he can�t produce an occasional 300 yard passing game this year, it�s time to declare the project a failure. Maybe Tee Martin will be become the next Aaron Brooks or Tommy Maddox will finally become the QB Denver thought he could be when they took him with a first round pick, but if they don�t it will be time to bring in an established starting QB through free agency or a trade, or time to draft a first round QB.� Next year�s class is full of potential at the QB position, but need more experience and thus are considered question marks. Hopefully several will get that experience this season, and things will click for these young QBs.
At any rate, 11 and 5 seems unrealistic this year. Hopefully I�m wrong, and I do think a play off appearance is possible. But it seems that the pieces are not in place yet to surpass both the Titans and Ravens and win the division. Perhaps the preseason will change my mind, but it appears that fans of the Steelers are more likely to be chanting the same mantra that they have eventually uttered every other season since Stewart has been the starting QB� - �Maybe Next Year.�