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Veterans of glory years could be on the way out

The Sports Xchange

It's tough to call a 12-4 record a disappointment, but Pittsburgh is one of the few places you can do so. The Steelers fought through major injuries throughout their lineup to compile that mark, barely failing to win the AFC North Division and a No. 1 or 2 playoff seed.

Then came the debacle in Denver in the first playoff game when, heavily favored, the Steelers were upset by Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

One drive cost them the No. 1 seed in the AFC -- a 92-yarder by Baltimore in Heinz Field on Nov. 6 that ended in a Ravens touchdown with eight seconds left and a 23-20 loss for the Steelers.

In reality, though, this was not a strong Pittsburgh team, and it beat only one tough opponent, the Patriots. Severe injuries to former Pro Bowl linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley seriously affected the pass rush and probably contributed to the defense's pathetic total of 15 takeaways. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fought through several injuries, and the offensive line was in a constant state of flux.

There likely will be no coaching changes, except for Bruce Arians' retirement as offensive coordinator on Jan. 20.

There will be player changes, however, and they will be painful ones, as the transition from the former Super Bowl teams continues. Among those in jeopardy of losing their jobs are venerable veterans such as James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Chris Kemoeatu, Max Starks, Charlie Batch and Chris Hoke.

"There's always going to be changes," coach Mike Tomlin said. "There are changes every year. I am not going to sit here and pretend like there's not going to be changes. To what extent, at this point I am not ready to address.

"That's why I enjoy these journeys. They are precious. At the end of this thing, the wheels do continue to turn. There will be some changes. We will see where this all takes us. Right now, I just have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the men in that room and what they are willing to do for us this year."

The Steelers have gradually worked in younger players, and they did so this season. Antonio Brown opened as the No. 4 receiver in his second season and not only became a starter in November but also the team MVP by the end of the season.

The main area of concern again lies in the offensive line. The Steelers had 10 different starting lineups because of injuries and lack of performance. Kemoeatu, for example, was yanked after three and a half years as the starting left guard because of both lack of performance and self-discipline. The Steelers have two good linemen, center Maurkice Pouncey and rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert, and they will look to improve elsewhere in the unit.

The linemen need to do a better job of protecting Roethlisberger and blocking for the run, particularly near the end zone, where the team had particular trouble scoring touchdowns.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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