When things aren’t going the way you want them to for extended periods of time it becomes very easy to get pessimistic. Criticizing becomes almost too easy and finding people to blame becomes as easy shooting fish in a barrel.
I know I fell into this category during the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers’ season of tumult which has seen our beloved black ‘n gold go 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Knowing they aren’t playing this weekend is just bizarre. I don’t know any other way to put it.
With that said, there were some things to be optimistic about and some positives that I believe this team can build around. There were some obviously great performances like Heath Miller and Shaun Suisham but here are a few that didn’t get quite the recognition.
Cortez Allen – Under most circumstances, I would have led off with Keenan Lewis here because he had a very nice season himself but I’m not so sure he’ll be back. Lewis is a free agent who may have priced himself too high for the Steelers. That’s where Allen comes in… The second year player from The Citadel proved he is more than just a special teams guy.
Pressed into action at the number two and even number one corner spot at times, Allen performed extremely well. Perhaps his best asset is that he has a nose for the ball. He created or was involved in more turnovers over the last three games than any player on defense was all season. That is exactly the type of player this defense needs going forward as they struggled to create turnovers for the second straight season.
Max Starks – How amazing is it this veteran, who seems to be there when the Steelers need him, didn’t miss a snap in 2012? If you want to look up ‘veteran leadership’ or ‘leader by example’ then here’s your man.
Starks gave up roughly three sacks all season and just his presence on the field helped the younger guys considerably. If anything, I would hope that Starks’ example of toughness would spread to guys like Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. I’m not suggesting their injuries weren’t valid, but I am suggesting that they could look to Starks toughness as an example of what is expected of an NFL tackle.
Sadly, Starks will be in demand from other NFL teams because of that toughness and durability. He could be priced out of the Steelers’ range in 2013.
Ramon Foster – Foster entered the 2012 season basically knowing that he would be the number one reserve for the guard position with Willie Colon and rookie David DeCastro starting. When DeCastro went down in the preseason with a significant injury, Foster came in and did an excellent job.
While he is clearly a better run blocker than pass protector, Foster still played better than most could have expected. Like Starks, he was very durable and is an excellent locker room guy. As a free agent, I would think re-signing him would be high on the teams’ ‘to-do-list.’
Ryan Clark – Most of us already know that Clark is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who in my opinion has actually gotten better with age. What we maybe didn’t know is that Clark could actually thrive in a role typically played by Troy Polamalu. With Troy out for nine games this season, Clark was forced to tutor guys like Ryan Mundy and Will Allen and he proved to be a very effective teacher.
Clark will enter the 2013 season with similar responsibilites and expectations which is tough for a guy who has now been in the league more than 10 years. There is no doubt he and Polamalu may start to see some competition from younger safeties, but until Clark slows down, I don’t see anyone beating him out.
Lawrence Timmons – I often wonder if there wasn’t too much expected of Timmons when he first came out of Florida State because I really think the team thought he’d thrive more at outside backer than inside, but Timmons has really come into his own as one of the more consistent inside backers in the league.
When Timmons is allowed to attack whether against the run or on the pass rush he is a force that is tough to reckon with and Dick LeBeau needs to allow him to do this more often. Sitting him in zone coverage is a waste of his ability in my opinion. Timmons is often over-shadowed by bigger name guys at inside backer and that’s why didn’t garner the Pro Bowl berth he deserved.
There were some other guys I thought played well at times like Larry Foote, Brett Keisel and Ben Roethlisberger, but consistency and/or injury hindered that. The Steelers were better than an 8-8 football team but sadly, that was their fate. They did have some great year-long performances though from the guys I mentioned above.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.