It's too early for '09 season previews, and too late for '08 season reviews. What's an NFL blog to do in the never-ending quest to overcover the bejeezus out of the NFL? Offseason progress reports. Let's go in alphabetical order. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Free agents lost: CB Fernando Bryant(notes), LB Larry Foote(notes), RB Verron Haynes(notes), LB Mike Humpal(notes), QB Byron Leftwich(notes), CB Bryant McFadden(notes), LS Jared Retkofsky(notes), RB Gary Russell(notes), G Kendall Simmons(notes), S Anthony Smith(notes), OT Marvel Smith(notes), WR Nate Washington(notes)
Drafted: DT Evander Hood(notes), OT Kraig Urbik(notes), WR Mike Wallace(notes), CB Keenas Lewis, CB Joe Burnett(notes), RB Frank Summers(notes), DT Ra'Shon Harris(notes), C A.Q. Shipley(notes), TE David Johnson(notes)
The Steelers machine, as evidenced by their sixth world championship back in January, is not broke, and thus, was not fixed. I don't know if any crop of free agent signings has ever better illustrated the "ain't broke, don't fix it" maxim better than Jayson Foster, Shaun McDonald, and Keiwan Ratliff.
The machine did lose a few parts, though, as it was pushed pretty snugly up against the salary cap. Bryant McFadden, Larry Foote, Kendall Simmons, Marvel Smith and Nate Washington all received significant playing time last year, and Byron Leftwich was probably the league's best backup quarterback. They're all off to less green pastures.
Really, though, Leftwich is the only one who isn't easily replaced. Larry Foote's a quality player, but you know the Steelers. There's some anonymous linebacker who's been riding pine and playing special teams for the past three years who will step in this season and make the damn Pro Bowl. I can't tell you who he is, but he's there. The Steelers always have that guy.
They don't have another Leftwich, though. He's gone to Tampa Bay, and Charlie Batch(notes) is again back in the black and gold. Batch is okay, but he's no Leftwich. Realistically, though, no team can expect to keep a quarterback of that caliber as a backup for too long.
The Steelers, obviously, have to be in a pretty good shape for me to be picking on backup quarterback as their a roster problem. I mention it, though, because another roster deficiency -- the offensive line -- makes the use of a backup quarterback a little more likely.
I know, I know ... everyone thought the line was a problem last year, too, and the Steelers only went on to win the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean they're perfect. They gave up 49 sacks last year, and only three teams were worse: the 49ers, Lions, and Bengals. That, plus Ben Roethlisberger's(notes) propensity to hold onto the football like Christopher Walken held on to that pocket watch in Pulp Fiction, means that Large Benjamin's going to take a lot of hits.
Any improvement on the line is going to have to come from within, unless they plan on converting Shaun McDonald to guard. The Steelers did draft a tackle by the name of Kraig Ubrik in the second round, and my guess is that he'll be asked to contribute at some point in 2009. There's also 7th-round pick A.Q. Shipley, who I believe owned and operated a dry goods store in 1895.
Progress: How much progress can you make after winning a Super Bowl? The Steelers didn't lose anything that can't be replaced, and another year of continuity and togetherness should just make them better. And who knows, perhaps the Super Bowl will be the springboard that gives Santonio Holmes(notes) the confidence to take his game to another level. Overall, expect the Steelers of 2009 to look a lot like the Steelers of 2008, though I expect their competition within the AFC North to be better, too.
Minus 1 game. 12-4 last year, 11-5 this year.