Here is an in-depth look at the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for their season-opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS:
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Ben Roethlsiberger. Backups - Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones.
They wanted to get younger behind Roethlisberger and wanted him more to be the leader of the group, answering the other's questions. Gradkowski, though, is a wily old vet and as good a backup as they've had with Charlie Batch. Jones did not show a lot in the preseason but is the highest draft pick (4th round) to make the team as a rookie since Roethlisberger.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - HB Isaac Redman, FB Will Johnson. Backups - RB Le'Veon Bell, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB Felix Jones.
With Bell nursing a small torn ligament in his right foot and out indefinitely, this could be a mess through the first month of the season. They cut Jonathan Dwyer, their leading rusher from last season, and replaced him with Jones, who impressed them somehow in little more than a week after they traded for him from the Eagles. Redman has only two carries this summer, in the first game, and has had a shoulder problem. Stephens-Howling has recovered from a sprained MCL.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- David Paulson. Backups - Heath Miller, David Johnson, Michael Palmer, Matt Spaeth.
Miller came off PUP but could miss the first month of the season as he continue his comeback from triple-ligament injury in the 15th game. Spaeth (foot) was placed on IR/designated for return. Paulson will handle the receiving part, Johnson the moving part and maybe OL Kelvin Beachum the blocking part until Miller's return. Not ideal.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders. Backups - Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye.
Brown and Sanders have breakaway ability but the rookie Wheaton ultimately may be their best receiver. He has speed, he's well rounded and he should command plenty of playing time pretty quickly. There will be plenty of pressure on this group in the first month to cover up for a poor running game and until Heath Miller plays.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Mike Adams, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups - T/G/C Kelvin Beachum, C/G Cody Wallace, T/G Guy Whimper.
A lot of young players in the line and they looked that way in the preseason, especially the two tackles. Adams, a good run blocker, hasn't shown he can handle the pass-rush on the left side. Problem is, Gilbert showed he could not handle it, which is why he was switched to the right. The interior three are strong and the new one blocking looks good. Beachum might be the answer ultimately at one of the tackles but right now he is the jack of all trades, even as a blocking tight end.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Ziggy Hood, NT Steve McLendon, DRE Brett Keisel. Backups - E Cameron Heyward, E/T Al Woods, NT Hebron Fangupo.
McLendon takes over for Casey Hampton and the Steelers are putting a lot of faith in him at that key 3-4 position. He has more movement than Hampton and might get to the quarterback more often, but the big question is how he will hold up over 16 games and in stopping the run and collapsing the pocket, Hampton specialties. Keisel will give way more to Heyward as they try to keep the old guy fresh and effective. They need Hood to step up his game.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB LaMarr Woodley, LILB Larry Foote, RILB Lawrence Timmons, ROLB Jarvis Jones. Backups - OLB Jason Worilds, OLB Chris Carter, ILB Vince Williams, ILB Kion Wilson, Terence Garvin.
Jones had a strong preseason and while Mike Tomlin has not yet picked his starter, the projection here is it will be him over Worilds. If not, those two will trade series early-on and Worilds will at times spell Woodley, who made it through the preseason injury-free, a start. Timmons was their best player on the NFL's No. 1 defense last season, playing all over the field and on every down. Foote, who calls the plays, is steady and made his share of big plays last season.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Cortez Allen, RCB Ike Taylor, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark. Backups - CB Curtis Brown, CB William Gay, S Shamarko Thomas, S Robert Golden, S Damon Cromartie-Smith, CB Antwon Blake.
Allen missed much of the preseason with knee surgery, but they're hoping he can do what he did when filling in for an injured Ike Taylor at the end of last season, forcing turnovers and making plays. Polamalu has been healthy and a healthy Polamalu will do wonders for them. Clark and Taylor have had strong seasons lately even as they reach well into their 30s. Gay is the nickel back, and rookie Thomas will spell one or both safeties as they try to get him some time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Shaun Suisham, P Zoltan Mesko, LS Greg Warren, KR LaRod Stephens-Howling, PR Antonio Brown.
The Steelers tried to replace Drew Butler after a so-so rookie season punting with veteran Brian Moorman, who was not up to it. So they picked up ex-Patriot punter Mesko Monday after he cleared waivers. Suisham missed only three kicks last season, two of them of 52 and beyond. They were hoping someone would take over the punting duties from Brown and WR Wheaton still could do some of that. Stephens-Howling has been a dependable kick returner but not many kicks are returned anymore.