The Steelers organization has been making some decisive moves during the off season, and certainly Steeler Nation has their collective fingers crossed that the results will include our annual trip back through the playoffs, which has been sorely missing the past two seasons. With a defense that is in desperate need of repair, and the usual over inflated salary cap numbers, the Steelers have been spending time crunching numbers and saying goodbye to long time players, as well as welcoming in some new. The first significant move was the extended contracts of veterans Strong Safety Troy Polamalu, and Tight End Heath Miller. It’s often been felt Polamalu has a limited shelf life, even though he is only 32 years old his style of play and history of injuries, makes many see him opting to retire in the not to distant future. His contract has been extended another three years, that favors the financial structure with deference towards the cap more so than his ability to remain in the game during that time period. However the simple fact is that the team needs him, they need his leadership and his ability to make plays on a defense that is in the midst of one biggest transitions in recent history.
Heath Miller, that’s a no-brainer, as long as this guy wants to play Professional Football he needs to do it in a Black and Gold uniform. I’ve often said Heath Miller is by far the most talented natural athlete the Steelers have had since Jack Ham. Like Ham, Heath Miller was a player with enough natural instincts and ability he could walk onto the field and play the game right out of College. Miller was the missing link in the 2004 offense then run then by Ken Wisenhunt, himself a tight end during his playing days, and it’s no coincidence the Steelers went straight through to Super Bowl 40 in Heath’s rookie year.
In addition to Polamalu and Miller, the Steelers have also retained the services of long time Defense Back Ike Taylor. Ike has often referred to himself as Dan Rooney’s adopted son, he’s thrilled to be finishing out his career as a Steeler and it’s a solid move to keep him on the roster as the secondary goes through it’s transition. The team has also resigned veteran Will Allen, Allen payed dividends last season after being cut by Dallas mid season, if he makes the team after camp his experience will also serve us well during the changeover.
The Steelers pounced quickly on free agent Safety Mike Mitchell, available after a one year contract expired with the Carolina Panthers. With Ryan Clarks time coming to an end with the team, and the uncertainty surrounding Shamarko Thomas entering his second year, the organization was wise in addressing the need in having veteran experience in the secondary. Mitchell started his career in the NFL after being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2009 Draft. Mitchell played his college ball at Ohio, he did not attend the NFL combine but impressed scouts with his 4:39 speed (40 yard dash) on his pro day. He left Oakland in 2013 for a starting role with the Panthers, he had a banner year which included 4 interceptions, 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles to go along with 72 tackles. His stout play in the Panthers secondary help establish them as one of the top 5 defenses in the NFL.
Outside Linebacker Lamar Woodley was released in a salary cap move which will save the Steelers 13.6 million against their already inflated cap. The other casualty of war in the linebacking corp is Larry Foote, released not for salary reasons, but simply because his time has come. Foote missed all of last year from a torn biceps injury, and Woodley was in and out of the line up due to injuries, far too much to justify his exorbitant salary. These two are certainly sentimental favorites as well as strong contributors during their respective stay with the team. Over a seven year tenure in a black and gold uniform, Lamar Woodley has played in 94 games, he started in 81 of them. Lamar had 355 tackles, 57 sacks, 5 interceptions, forced 9 fumbles, 9 fumbles recovered, and scored 3 defensive touchdowns.
Woodley went Pro Bowl and earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2009, not too shabby for a player at his position. Woodley was at his best in the post season, starting from his rookie year. He had 11 total sacks in the postseason, which included two sacks in each of his first four postseason games. He will be most remembered for his strip sack of Kurt Warner Super Bowl XLIII, which effectively ended the game.
Other players finding work elsewhere include Running Back Jonathan Dwyer (Arizona Cardinals), and Fullback/Tight End David Johnson (San Diego Chargers). Dwyer showed much promise during his stay with the Steelers, starting several games and contributing in a big way. But injuries and character issues kept him from staying in favor with the Coaches, he was actually cut before the start of last season, then resigned when Le’Veon Bell was injured. We’ll learn to live with the lose of those two players, but with emerging Defensive Lineman Al Woods signing with the Tennessee Titans, the real problems are going to be with depth on the defensive front. The beard himself Brett Keisel is now gone after ten years, and Ziggy Hood has worn his welcome out and will not be resigned, so the choices are becoming few and far between. Al Woods played very well in his limited time both at nose guard and tackle, I was really looking for him to step into a more prominent role, so look for those positions on the d-line to be the achilles’ heel going into the 2014 camp.
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