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The Defending Champions

Repeating as Super Bowl champions is not easy. Next season the Steelers are going to be the big game on every team’s schedule. Everybody is going to be gunning to take out the Pittsburgh Steelers to try to prove themselves to the league. Despite this intangible fact, the Steelers will be favorites to win their 7th Lombardi trophy in ‘09. Here is why the Steelers will become a dynasty by winning their second consecutive Super Bowl and third in five years:


Special Teams

The special teams unit will be a difference maker in close games next year. Jeff Reed will continue to master his trade of being a very dependable kicker especially at Heinz Field, which is known to be the toughest place to kick. In the last 2 years Reed has made 50 of 56 FG attempts and 80 of 81 extra points, an overall 95% success rate. Daniel Sepulveda will make his return as the punter and prove why the Steelers drafted him in the 4th round in 2007. Sepulveda has the potential as being a top 3 punter in the NFL and will help make it even easier on the league’s best defense. The Steelers return game has been slacking in recent years, but they have addressed that this offseason and will look to some speedy new guys for help. Steelers 3rd round pick Mike Wallace owns records at Ole Miss for single game, season, and career return yards and the coaches are excited about his potential as a big play returner. Newcomer Stefan Logan and rookie Joe Burnett will get opportunities as returnmen as they try to prove themselves to the league. Logan is coming off a season where he gained 1412 yards in the CFL and has agility that has been compared to Darren Sproles. Joe Burnett will try to pick up where he left off in college, where he had 5 returns for touchdowns and was an All-Conference kickoff and punt returner at Central Florida. Santonio Holmes will surely get his situational punt returns. His big-play talent was huge in the playoffs, and his 67 yard punt return touchdown against San Diego was maybe the biggest play of the year (until the Super Bowl).


Experience

There is no substitute in sports for having been to the Promised Land. The Steelers know what it takes to win big games. Confidence will carry over into next season as the Steelers will know how to play like champions. This team has done it before, most of them have done it twice, and they are poised to do it again.


Running Game

Look for the Steelers to have one of the best rushing attacks in the league next year. Last year they had to overcome injuries to Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Carey Davis throughout the year so it was hard to find some consistency. All five starters from the offensive line of their Super Bowl team will return in ‘09. That unit was very effective as run blockers despite all of the criticism that they received early during last season. The wide receivers and tight ends are all excellent run blockers which will contribute in making the running game roll. Rookie Frank “The Tank” Summers could pick up some goal line carriers and potentially be the short yardage back the Steelers have been lacking. Willie Parker is looking better than ever and his speed will cause big problems for opposing defenses. Rashard Mendenhall will look to have a breakout season and be the next Steelers first round pick to become a star player. The 22 year old has a rare combination of size, speed, and agility which will make him a force in the Steelers offense for years to come.


Passing Game

Ben Roethlisberger returns and will lead a very dangerous passing attack. The receiving corps is tough and talented and Big Ben will have many options when dropping back (or running around). The passing attack will revolve around short to medium range passes with Hines Ward, Santonio, and Heath Miller. Both Big Ben and Bruce Arians love to throw the deep pass and this team will definitely have deep threats. Limas Sweed showed that he has the speed to get open downfield and has great potential as a big play receiver. Mike Wallace, who has run a 4.28 40 yard dash, will be the fastest player on the team and will get some opportunities to burn the defense. As long as they can keep it close in the 4th quarter, the Steelers will be comfortable if they have to send Big Ben out to win the game with one last drive in a big game..


Coaching

Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau will have this team ready for another run at the title. Mike Tomlin has quickly become the best young head coach in the NFL. Since his arrival the Steelers have been 25-11 and have produced the #1 ranked defense both years. The players enjoy playing for him and the fans love him. He is an exciting and energetic coach and isn’t afraid to make a big decision. Defensive mastermind Dick LeBeau has gameplans and schemes that are always a step ahead of opposing offenses. People have questioned whether this team will be motivated for another run because they have lost their hunger to win it. "It's not hunger that drives me, it's not hunger that needs to drive our football team," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings. "Hunger and thirst are things that can be quenched. We have to be a driven group, we have to seek greatness. I think driven is a more appropriate word, it's a word I tend to use with them as we prepare for '09.” Expect Mike Tomlin to have his team motivated for a championship in 2009.


Defense

Defense wins championships, and the best defense the NFL has seen this decade is going to be even better in ‘09. The Steelers defense is stacked with stars and every position is their strength. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark lead a secondary that finished ranked #1 in yards in 2008. Cornerback Ike Taylor will return and William Gay is ready to replace Bryant McFadden as a shutdown corner. Third round picks Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett will give depth at the cornerback position. The secondary looks to be stronger than ever and will be stable for many more years. Lawrence Timmons will see his first full season as starting inside linebacker as he replaces Larry Foote. Timmons and LaMarr Woodley are about to enter the prime of their careers and their talent will take the Steelers defense over the top. Not to mention that the Steelers also have defensive MVP James Harrison and pro-bowler James Farrior in that linebacking corps that could soon be legendary. The big defensive line also returns and will be even better with the addition of first round pick Ziggy Hood. Hood will make the Steelers D even more dangerous because his specialty is penetrating the line of scrimmage and putting pressure on the quarterback and blowing up running plays. Dick LeBeau will have this defense playing smart and firing on all cylinders, which will naturally have this defense ranked #1 once again.


By Jeff Cupp

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