During the 2012 season, the Steelers will be wearing jerseys from the 1934 season. That’s appropriate, given that they have more than their fair share of players who are or soon will be 34. Several of the team’s older players have already retired. More will within the next few years. The time is now to find young players who will provide the foundation for the Steelers in the not-too-distant future.
Guard: The Steelers have had incredible success on offense, in light of their struggles along the offensive line. Of course, it helps to have a quarterback who can extend plays with uncanny agility, in light of his Sasquatch size. Now that the Steelers want Roethlisberger to spent less time maneuvering and more time getting rid of the ball, they need to find a way to beef up the line. Though upgrades are necessary at both tackle and guard, the more pressing need arises to the immediate left and immediate right of center Maurkice Pouncey, especially if the Steelers plan to push the pile and run the football.
Nose tackle: Chris Hoke is gone and Casey Hampton could soon follow him. Despite talk that Ziggy Hood could move from defensive end back to the position he was drafted to play, the ideal solution would be to get a true nose tackle.
Running back: Even if Rashard Mendenhall can return for 2012, his long-term future with the team looks bleak. With plenty of quality tailbacks available in latter rounds of the draft, or after the draft ends, this would be a perfect year for the Steelers to find another Willie Parker.
Safety: On Thursday, Troy Polamalu celebrated his 31st birthday. Though Polamalu never has mused about retirement, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. And he seems like the kind of guy who won’t hint about walking away. He’ll be done when he’s done, without warning or angst or comebacks. The Steelers can prepare by trying to find in the middle of the draft a guy who possibly can develop into Polamalu’s successor. Given the dramatic impact that Polamalu’s absence has on the defense, the Steelers need to start thinking about the day when he’ll be gone for good.
Receiver: The Steelers gambled during free agency, using the restricted free agency tender and not the franchise tag on receiver Mike Wallace. Next year, they’ll face the same dilemma with receiver Antonio Brown, the team’s MVP in 2011 — and Wallace will be an unrestricted free agent. The time is now to find another steal, like Wallace was in round three and Brown was in round six.
The Steelers are dealing with as much turmoil and transition as they’ve seen in recent years. Players who played key roles in a pair of Super Bowl wins are gone, and more will be going in the coming years. The team needs to find a way to ensure that the batons will pass smoothly, and to always be ready and able to move on from a player one year too early, instead of doing it one day too late.