Heading into the 2012 season the Steelers have high expectations. There has been plenty of change during the offseason, but the Steelers still have all the pieces in place to make a serious run at another NFL title. However, a lack of depth in a few key areas leaves the Steelers susceptible to running into major issues. In recent years the defensive line and offensive line have caused issues for the Steelers in terms of injury. Heading into 2012 it appears they have fixed those depth issues and are prepared to have break-out years on both lines. They are not, however, without their issues. Cornerback has little depth and outside linebacker continues to be a struggle for a team that typically has no problem finding new pass rushers. So heading into the 2012 season who are the players the Steelers can least afford to lose to injury?:
5.) James Harrison – Harrison missed multiple games in 2011 (due to injury and a 1 game suspension). When Harrison went down the Steelers were forced, due to no better back-up being available, to return Lawrence Timmons to his former position. Larry Foote stepped into the middle linebacker role and the Steelers continued on with their business. However, with the departure of James Farrior the Steelers need Timmons to remain in the middle in 2012. So if Harrison goes down they will have to turn to Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, or Adrian Robinson (an undrafted rookie who has looked good thus far in the offseason). None of the three back-ups at outside linebacker have much or any game experience and would leave the Steelers vulnerable on the left side.
4.) Issac Redman – Redman will be taking over for the injured Rashard Mendenhall in 2012 as the primary running back in Todd Haley’s new offense. If Redman suffers an injury the Steelers have plenty of players to fill in for him and may even have Mendenhall back at some point in 2012. However, much like their back-up outside linebackers the running backs behind Redman lack experience. Jonathan Dwyer has the most experience with 25 career carries. Behind him are Baron Batch (0 career carries), Chris Rainey (a rookie), and John Clay (who has ten career carries).
3.) Lamarr Woodley – Much like James Harrison above Woodley missed plenty of playing time in 2012. Jason Worilds filled in for Woodley, but is nowhere near the force that Woodley is coming off the right side. The Steelers need Woodley to stay healthy to put pressure on the quarterback and help out the young corners who will be playing behind him on the defense. Woodley was on a defensive player of the year pace to start the 2011 season before suffering a hamstring injury that plagued him throughout the rest of the year. The Steelers will be hoping that Woodley can return to that form and stay there for the entire 2012 season.
2.) Ike Taylor – Taylor may be somewhat deserving of the number on spot on this list; especially if he plays like he did in 2011 again. Ike is by far the best corner on the Steelers roster and a long-term injury would leave the Steelers with a very young and inexperienced cornerback group. Behind Taylor are Keenan Lewis who finally came into his own in 2011, but needs to continue to improve heading into 2012. 2011 rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen will be competing for the starting job alongside Taylor with Lewis, however, Brown has no defensive experience and Allen, although he played well, has very little. If Taylor goes down for a long period of time in 2012 the Steelers could be in trouble in the defensive backfield.
1.) Ben Roethlisberger - This is the no brain-er of the group. Any team with a franchise quarterback cringes everytime they see him get hit (which seems to be a bit too often in Pittsburgh). Losing Roethlisberger to a major injury in 2012 would all but remove their Super Bowl aspirations. Although Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich are capable back-ups they are not franchise quarterbacks. One positive note on Roethlisberger is that new offensive coordinator has made it known that one of his main goals is to keep Roethlisberger healthy. Quick passes and a better running game should help to do that. Not to mention a complete overhaul on the offensive line. As mentioned before non of the players on the Steelers offensive line from their Super Bowl loss two years ago will be starters in 2012 (at least it’s not likely).