Fantasy thoughts: Exactly which version of TE Heath Miller(notes) should owners expect this season? The one who averaged 42 catches for 488.8 yards and 4.6 TDs in five of his six seasons? Or the one who broke out in 2009 for 76 catches, 789 yards and six TDs?
After you pick through the top tight ends, you're looking for a guy with upside, particularly in PPR leagues (I play in one where tight end catches weigh more). There are reasons to believe that Miller could be a bigger factor this year after getting only 42 catches last season.
First, Miller didn't have QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) throwing to him for the first four games last season, which limited everything the Steelers did on offense. Miller had three games with two catches in that run. Once Roethlisberger returned, Miller had only three healthy games with two or fewer catches the rest of the way. Second, WRs Hines Ward(notes) and Emmanuel Sanders(notes) combined for 87 catches last season and there's reason to believe that number will drop. Ward is on the decline and Sanders is on the mend. Neither of those guys is practicing right now as they both are recovering from injury.
Moreover, the talented Sanders could be in limbo all year after having a complicated foot surgery this offseason. The situation is delicate to say the least, so Miller could get more attention as a beneficiary.
The rest of the Steelers aren't really that big of a mystery. Roethlisberger figures to be good for 22 to 25 TDs with roughly 4,000 yards passing. The best part about Roethlisberger is that he has reduced his interceptions. You may not get greatness, but you can do a whole lot worse.
Don't worry too much about RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes), whose offseason tweets made him a subject of ridicule. He's still the No. 1 running back on this team. As long as he's healthy, he'll get 1,200 yards and 12 to 15 TDs. It would be nice if he'd catch more passes, but he's inexplicably awkward coming out of the backfield.
WR Mike Wallace(notes) is one of the best deep guys in the league, but his ability to read intermediary routes is still suspect, so expecting much growth is tough. Likewise, a healthy Sanders would be interesting, but that's probably a bad bet this season.
Getting younger: Despite the presence of so many veteran players (the Steelers have 15 players over the age of 30 and at least 14 figure to make the roster), expect the team to keep all seven of their draft picks. That could put the Steelers in a serious minority throughout the league if team director of football operations Kevin Colbert is right.
"I think you're going to see more rookies than ever get cut coming out of camp," Colbert said. "Expect things to be really fluid around the league this year."
The result is that many rookies could end up on practice squads this season. The long-term effect of that is many of them may not get to free agency for an additional full year if they get stuck for a season. Colbert also doesn't expect many rookies around the league to contribute until perhaps as late as the middle of the season. Coaches just won't trust them before that.
Despite all of that, look for OT Marcus Gilbert(notes), Pittsburgh's second-round pick, to get a lot of action this season. Gilbert is a very smooth athlete who many believe underachieved at Florida. However, others say that Gilbert resembles one of those guys who looks like he isn't giving any effort even when he is. He's that good of an athlete.
Colbert said the main goal for the team after the lockout was to keep as many regulars as possible. Job accomplished: the team has all 22 starters back. Said Colbert: "How we do this year is going to depend on how much progression we get from our young guys compared to the regression by the older guys."
Tidbits from the road: The Steelers held their annual practice at Latrobe (Pa.) High School, which is a great scene. The entire town turns out for the event (not that the setting is a whole lot different from the set-up at St. Vincent's College). The best part about the event is that the Latrobe High football players serve as the "tunnel" through which the Steelers enter the field. It's great to look in the faces of those teenage boys and see the awe as they watch the players walk through. … One nugget I happened across while in Boston a few days ago: While standing in line briefly, I heard an acoustic version of "Heat of the Moment," a song by Asia that I hated for nearly 30 years. However, I have to say that this version gave the song a completely different feel. Furthermore, while searching iTunes for it, I found it on an album of acoustic songs called "'80s Hits Stripped." Not everything was great, but most are way better than the originals, including "No One is to Blame" by Howard Jones and even "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. I can't say I ever wanted to hear Springfield's hit ever again in my life, but it was worth a listen.
- The Steelers