Today, I'll talk with Andrew Vigliotti about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Below you'll find the full interview including a prediction:
Wedra: Do you feel that the Steelers will be better in 2013? Why or why not?
Vigliotti: Pittsburgh will be a much improved team than what we saw last year. Keep this in mind the Steelers were 6-3 through their first nine games a year ago.
The injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deeply impacted the team the rest of the way. If you remember in Week 12, their second game without Roethlisberger due to the ribs and shoulder injury, the Steelers turned it over EIGHT times. With Big Ben healthier than he’s been in a long time, I expect a huge season, which will significantly help.
The next question is can their offensive line keep Big Ben upright and healthy? In my heart of hearts, I believe they will. The Steelers have one of the best young centers in the game with Maurkice Pouncey. Keep in mind young guard David DeCastro will be playing his first full season after suffering a knee injury that prevented him from suiting up the majority of 2012. Also the growth of left tackle Mike Adams is also going to assist the Steelers offensive front. For the first time in a while, I love Pittsburgh’s offensive line and expect big things.
A reason for the poor performance from the offensive line was due to the lack of a running game. The Steelers finished 26th in the league in rushing, averaging just over 90 yards a contest. The addition of LeVeon Bell, via the draft, provides the Steelers with a physical presence in the backfield. A healthy Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman will spell the rookie every couple possessions. Expect the running game to be significantly improved in 2013.
Questions hover surrounding their wide receiver core with the loss of Mike Wallace. Expect the Steelers to be just fine without him. Yes, Wallace is a good receiver, but his departure will allow Antonio Brown to emerge as the No. 1 playmaker the team needs and expected after they gave him a contract extension before the 2012 campaign. Also expect rookie Marcus Wheaton, who has produced well in camp, to have an impact on offense at points this season.
The only concern I have is with the tight end position. The organization never established a true backup plan for Heath Miller, who suffered a torn ACL at the end of last season. Will he be ready to go? That is the only question. When he gets healthy, he should be a huge part of the offense.
Also the defense, which was ranked at the top of the NFL a season ago, will feature some young faces. Linebacker Jarvis Jones should make a huge impact this year with the loss of veteran James Harrison. Middle Linebacker Vince Williams may not start right away, but expect him to get playing time and possibly get the nod next to Lawrence Timmons near the end of 2013. Safety Shamarko Thomas is a safety who reminds me of a younger Troy Polamalu. The former Syracuse safety was taken in the fourth round squarely because of his height. At 5’9”, he’s doesn’t have the prototypical height, but he plays hard. I love him.
All these reasons along with the excellent leadership on the sidelines, starting with head coach Mike Tomlin, are the reasons why I love the Pittsburgh Steelers’ chances of returning to the playoffs in 2013.
Wedra: Did the Steelers do anything to ensure that Big Ben can stay healthy all year?
Vigliotti: It all starts with the offensive line to protect Roethlisberger. Pouncey is one of the best young centers in centers in the game. DeCastro is a young guard who we will finally see for a whole season. Mike Adams, who should be ready to go after he was the victim of a stabbing earlier this summer, should develop nicely as Ben’s blindside protector. The offensive line looks solid heading into the year.
The other key ingredient is the running game. As I stated previously, the addition of LeVeon Bell should do wonders for Roethlisberger’s health. Bell provides a physicality the Steelers lacked in 2012. The rushing game will take pressure off the passing attack and thus force defenses to play honest when it comes to their defensive schemes.
Overall if the line can stay healthy, expect Roethlisberger to play 16 games this season.
Wedra: Tell us your opinion on the Steelers draft class this year.
Vigliotti: I was extremely impressed with Pittsburgh’s draft in April.
First off, Jarvis Jones was one of the most dominant pass rushers in the SEC, which speaks volumes about his talent. The former Georgia linebacker should provide a seamless transition to James Harrison.
The LeVeon Bell pick was tremendous. One of the prime needs before the draft was the running back position. Yes Dwyer and Redman are solid, but the Steelers desperately needed a big, physical runner to provide balance to the Steelers’ offense. In essence, this was one of my favorite picks in the draft.
Markus Wheaton may not have the speed of Mike Wallace, but then again not very many receivers do. However, the former Oregon State product is a great route runner and should provide some explosive plays in the offense.
My other favorite player in this draft class was safety Shamarko Thomas. The safety as written earlier, is shorter than the average safety, but plays as hard as any other. He could be one of the best in the game once he gets full playing time.
The only player I am not the biggest fan of from this draft class is quarterback Landry Jones, who was selected in the fifth-round by the Steelers. He doesn’t seem to be a signal-caller who will have a career as a starter. He could serve as a decent backup, but that’s about it. Even after Roethlisberger’s career is finished, I don’t see Jones as the eventual replacement.
Vince Williams in my mind can be one of the best linebackers in all of the NFL in the next few years. He is a great run-stopper, but will need to develop his pass coverage skills. I surely hope the Steelers realize the kind of ability and upside he possesses. I see him taking over for Larry Foote at some point during the regular season.
With regards to this draft class, expect many of these players to be key parts to the team’s success moving forward. As some of the veterans finish their tenure with the team or their career, these younger players are going to be great assets. General Manager Kevin Colbert along with their scouting team should feel good about their young players.
Wedra: What is the biggest thing to watch in the preseason this year?
Vigliotti: The biggest focal-point for the Steelers in the preseason is the development of Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker. The team is counting on him to be the replacement to James Harrison. While he is expected to be the long-term starter, Jason Worilds should receive playing time as well. Either way it’s the next man up out there and there isn’t any excuse to succeed without Harrison.
Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley took a lot of criticism from his own locker room for his lack of a work ethic last season. He dealt with hamstring issues throughout the year which limited his production immensely. The 28-year-old surely wants to rebound from a meager 38 tackle and four-sack 2012 season. Expect him to have the motivation to prove his critics wrong.
While there are many different factors to look out for during the preseason, the running game with rookie LeVeon Bell is one that intrigues me. I expect Bell to take the starter’s role and run with it throughout the year. If he can bring the physical presence they have lacked over the past couple years, this team will be greatly improved.
Wedra: Give me a prediction on how Pittsburgh will finish the 2013 season.
Vigliotti: Many are predicting the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North, and deservedly so as they are a well-built team in all three phases of the game; offense, defense and special teams. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that bounces back quickly. They are rarely a team who misses the postseason for two consecutive years.
With the leadership starting at the top with the Rooney family to head coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and the prideful players on the field, I expect an 11-win season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two games against the Cincinnati Bengals will be crucial to whoever wins this division. I see both teams splitting their season-series with them also going 11-5. The next tiebreaker would be decided on division record. I see the Steelers at least one game better in that regard, which means the division title, is going back to the Steel City.
Once a team reaches the postseason, anything can happen. I expect the Steelers defense to again be among the elite of the National Football League. Therefore, Pittsburgh has as good as chance as anybody to play their final game of the year at Giants Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @Andrew_Vig.