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Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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The Steelers announced offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is retiring, but a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited sources that said his hand was forced when was told his contract would not be renewed for 2012. That seemed to be proven valid amidst reports that Arians was the new offensive coordinator of the Colts just days later.

The decision to part with Arians was believed to have come from team president Art Rooney II, with coach Mike Tomlin telling Arians multiple times since the end of the season that he wanted him to return.

Arians, 59, spent the past five seasons with the Steelers and was working under a one-year contract.

"I appreciate his efforts over the past five years as the team's offensive coordinator and for helping lead our offense to new heights during his time with the Steelers," Tomlin said in a statement Friday. "I am grateful to Bruce for contributing to our success and wish him nothing but the best in his retirement."

The Steelers are likely to fill their vacant position from their own coaching ranks, as league sources have indicated the top two candidates are quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Sean Kugler.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson is also a possibility, but his health, after sustaining serious burns to nearly half of his body in early January, leaves that up in the air.

Fichtner has coached the quarterbacks and receivers in two stints in Pittsburgh and has a familiarity with the spread offense after installing the system during his time at the University of Memphis.

Arians departure reportedly did not sit well with QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was close with Arians.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK
Starter -- Ben Roethlisberger. Backups -- Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon.

Roethlisberger had another good season despite various injuries (sprained foot, broken right thumb, high ankle sprain). Leftwich, although an unrestricted free agent, will return to be No. 2, which he was going to be until a broken left arm in an exhibition game ended his season. Batch and Dixon, both unrestricted free agents, probably will not return.

RUNNING BACKS
Starters -- RB Rashard Mendenhall, FB/H-B David Johnson Backups -- Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay. Injured reserve -- Baron Batch. Mendenhall tore his ACL in the final regular-season game after a subpar season. Redman, more of a power runner, deserves more carries. He finished strong. Moore likely will go, with two spots reserved for Dwyer/Clay/Batch, the latter a rookie who has Moore-like third-down abilities.

TIGHT ENDS
Starter -- Heath Miller. Backup -- Weslye Saunders.

Miller remains one of the most versatile tight ends in the game, and the Steelers use him to block as much as to catch. Saunders played a lot as an undrafted rookie. The team also uses FB David Johnson as a tight end.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown. Backups -- Hines Ward, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, Arnaz Battle.

Wallace was spectacular in the first half of the season, a dud in the second when Brown came on so strong his teammates voted him MVP. Ward lost his starting job in November and became an afterthought. The Steelers may not bring him back. Sanders had injury problems but finished strong as the No. 3 receivers. Cotchery also had a good second half but is an unrestricted free agent and likely will leave. Battle is strictly a special-teamer.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LT Max Starks, LG Doug Legursky, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG Ramon Foster, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups -- G/C/T Trai Essex, G Chris Kemoeatu, T Jonathan Scott, T Jamon Meredith, T Willie Colon.

The only set spot is center. Starks is an unrestricted free agent, and he ended season with a torn ACL. Legursky beat out Kemoeatu near midseason, and Kemoeatu may not be back. Colon will come back, and he could return at right tackle with Gilbert moving to left tackle, where the team believes his future lies. Essex is an unrestricted free agent. Scott is a good backup. Meredith is a work in progress. The whole line could take on another look after fielding 10 separate starting lineups in 2011.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- DLE Ziggy Hood, NT Casey Hampton, RDE Brett Keisel. Backups -- DE Cameron Heyward, DE Al Woods, NT Steve McLendon. Injured reserve -- DE Aaron Smith, NT Chris Hoke.

Tough decisions coming here. Smith, done after four games because of a neck injury, likely will retire. Hampton ended the season with an ACL tear. He is supposed to make $8 million in 2012, so his job is in question. Keisel had another good year. Heyward is a future starter. Hoke had neck surgery and may be finished. The Steelers need a nose tackle. McLendon played a lot at the position after Hoke was hurt. Woods is a developmental player.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- LOLB LaMarr Woodley, LILB James Farrior, RILB Lawrence Timmons, ROLB James Harrison. Backups -- ILB Larry Foote, OLB Jason Worilds, OLB Chris Carter, ILB Stevenson Sylvester, ILB Mortty Ivy.

Injuries took their toll. Woodley missed six of the final eight regular-season games with a hamstring injury after recording nine sacks through the first eight games. Harrison sat out four games with a broken eye socket and one to a NFL suspension. Worilds did OK in seven starts. Timmons started four games on the outside. Farrior turned 37 and alternated with Foote. Sylvester and Ivy played mostly on special teams. Carter was dogged by injuries.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB William Gay, RCB Ike Taylor, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark. Backups -- CB Keenan Lewis, CB Bryant McFadden, CB Cortez Allen, S Ryan Mundy, S Will Allen, CB Anthony Madison, S Damon Cromartie-Smith, CB Curtis Brown.

Taylor was having his best year through three-quarter of the season, but it but fell apart at the end. Gay did a nice job in his return as a starter, a job he lost in 2010. Polamalu had another All-Pro season, and Clark had perhaps his best season. Lewis came on as the No. 3 cornerback and did a good job there. McFadden quickly lost his starting job, and he will be gone. Rookies Allen and Brown appear to have good futures. Madison and Cromartie-Smith were late additions because of injuries. Mundy and Allen are special-teamers but not sufficient to start.

SPECIAL TEAMS
K Shaun Suisham, P Jeremy Kapinos, KR/PR Antonio Brown, LS Greg Warren. Injured reserve -- P Daniel Sepulveda.

Suisham has done OK in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Steelers. The team will look for another kicker, but he'll probably be back. Kapinos punted effectively after Sepulveda was shelved with yet another injury, this one a meniscus. Pittsburgh might stick with Kapinos, although an outsider could be brought in. Brown earned a Pro Bowl berth as the AFC return man after a dynamic season. Warren is a reliable long snapper in his seventh season with the team.

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

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