Steelers Beginning A Fresh Campaign - By Mark Mihalko

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

With a little less than a week before the start of training camp, Steelers fans across the globe are sitting on pins and needles waiting for the small snippets of information trickling out of the front office.

Has Hines Ward signed his extension yet? Is Heath Miller in the fold? Has there been any freak training accident (see Clark Haggans last season)? These burning questions lie in the back of every follower of the beloved Black and Gold. But, they shouldn't be at the forefront, can the Steelers finally get over the hump and win that elusive fifth Super Bowl title, should be that question.

Can they finally do it? I think they can. I have heard all the skeptics talk about how Bill Cowher can't win the big game and to an extent they are right. The Steelers have been a different team in the playoffs and seem to peak too early but that is not all coach Cowher's fault.

Take our marvelous 2004 campaign, going 15-1. To me losing in the AFC Championship game was the best thing that could have happened to the Steelers last season, especially Ben Roethlisberger. I know you are sitting here saying I am crazy. But, the reality of it is Big Ben will have a hard enough time living up to the expectations already in place, let alone coming off of a Super Bowl victory. I know I can't be the only person that views things this way, there are others out there and even the most diehard fan will agree if they look at it objectively.

The Steelers are in a great position to be in the AFC Championship Game again in 2005, although it won't be easy. The AFC North will be one of the top divisions in the NFL and the AFC is loaded again. To me, the winner of the AFC will likely be the next Super Bowl champs.

While we do not return everyone, the corps group that returns has enough talent to take us to the Promised Land. Sure we lost Kendrell Bell, Oliver Ross, Plaxico Burress and a few others this offseason, but once again our personnel department did a great job bringing in talent.

The additions of TE Heath Miller and WR Cedrick Wilson should more then replace the enigmatic Burress. Miller has great size and deceptive speed and should quickly develop into Big Ben's security blanket. Wilson has great hands, something that could not be said about Burress. The combination of Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Wilson should provide a great deal of flexibility to our passing game, a passing game which we need to open up more in 2005.

Defensively, we should be stout again. The loss of Bell didn't do much damage, basically only hurting our depth. I agree that when healthy Bell is a monster, but when was the last time we saw that? I would prefer solid contributions from warriors who will be on the field then a spectacular play every few games from a hot-tub regular. Our linebacking unit is still solid. Fifth-round selection Rian Wallace was the best linebacker in the Big East and was a steal. I know the Steelers have been rumored to be looking at LB Peter Boulware for depth and in the short term that may be a solid move if he is healthy. The Steelers have lacked that impact third down pass rusher since Kevin Greene left and when healthy he can be that guy. I just hope that they don't sign him at the expense of an up-and-coming talent.

Through all of that, the key to the 2005 Steelers is exactly the same as it has been since Cowher arrived in Pittsburgh, running the ball. If OT Max Starks and OG Kendall Simmons cannot adequately open holes for Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis, our season is lost. After 2003 Amos Zereoue was banished for failing as the Steelers feature running back. Was it his fault or was he the goat? To me, he was the goat.

With the parity that exists in the NFL today, your offensive and defensive lines take an even greater importance on the team. In 2003, the line-play was spotty thus leading us to one of the worst seasons in the Cowher era. In 2004, the line play was great and we all know the results.

As we draw closer to training camp and you ask yourself if this is going to be the year, think about those linemen who get virtually no respect, they hold the answer.