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After an oh-so-bummer of a 2012 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, there is the hope of a better 2013. For the Steelers offense to be successful, here’s my list of the top 5 body parts that have to stay functional for the Steelers to get back to the top of the AFC North heap.

#5-Dave DeCastro’s right knee. After Marcus Gilbert went King Kong Bundy on David DeCastro’s right knee in a pre-season game in Orchard Park, New York, i had pretty much given up on Dave doing anything game related for the rest of 2012. I was wrong and glad to be so.

The fact that he was so dedicated to his rehab, and parlayed some serious quick healing into 3 starts in 4 games means that he’s also game ready and the jump from year 1 to year 2 is already racked and loaded.

DeCastro just might be the hindu version of Alan Faneca. Powerful at the point of attack run-wise, he’s also capable of eviscerating opponents on search and destroy missions on the wide open ranges while displaying athleticism Ala “Big Red.”

David’s also got a quick punch on short sets where he positions himself so as to make the defender fight in a phone booth with him. Very strong in the ham-hocks, DeCastro can drop anchor on the strongest bull rushers. He’s smart, dedicated to his craft and has spent a good deal of the off-season working with a noted master of close-quarter-combat in the trenches, Tunch Ilkin.

David is part of the next-generation athletic offensive linemen that got its start with the drafting of Maurkice Pouncey. And to keep this train rolling, David has to play, and play well.

#4-Heath Miller”s knee is the knee that needs to hold together obviously, but in short term the ACL of David Johnson makes the list. I believe that Heath will be hard pressed to make the opener. Matt Spaeth has been re-loaded into the mix, and he is a wood chopper. Matt is a big dude, block-friendly, capable at the point of attack. But he’s known to clang a few catch-wise.

Now i may be stepping out in faith and making a reach on this one, but with the evolution of the Haley offense and the number of check-down opportunities afforded to backfield players, David is interesting.

Before David blew his knee out in Philly, i believed David was on the verge of earning some serious PT. He’s good lining up as an in-line TE, rolls over the front foot with a text book flat back, is mobile enough to H-back and fluid enough to FB. David grew from a two-footed squatter on lead blocks up the middle to a one-footed take-off man on the straight ahead el-kabongers.

He’s got good hands and decent speed for a big man. If his rehab has gone as expected, and David regains the ground he’s lost, he just might be the surprise of training camp. Heath’s catches have to go somewhere.

I will say this though, the work of Will Johnson in camp, based on the reps he got in the absence of David Johnson last year, may also be a determining factor in what goes down here. Will Johnson is a terrific athlete, has special teams capabilities and he may also be on the rise this year.

#3-Antonio Brown’s eyes. I loved the work ethic this young man displayed from day one when he arrived. One of the first on the field and last to get off, everything Brown did on the field was pedal-to-the-metal-full-throttle-wide-open, much like watching a biker doing a “burn out”at a Sturgis bar during Bike week. Antonio personified the old football axiom that you “Practice like you play, and you play like you practice.”

There was a disconnect last year. I don’t know if i can put my finger on it, but it was somehow en capsulized in his $10,000 dollar NFL fine for a Mr. Magoo backwards run into the end zone against the Redskins last year and a fumbled punt return at “Jerry-World” in the Big D.

Antonio has magic in those hands and a million dollar Hines Ward grin. Brown has star power, but with star power comes 5-star living. Remember Mickey’s words to Rocky Balboa in Rocky 2 (or was it 3?). “The woist thing that can happen to a boxer is to get civilized.”

Antonio is tough enough to mix it up on run plays, while keeping an understanding of the moment he’s in. An excellent route-runner, Antonio can position his body post-up fashion in zone-windows and YAC it up after the catch. A penchant for making big-plays in big-play time will be needed to reconvene this year which begins with Brown staying healthy all year.

If he fans the flames of desire in his innards, stays old school in his approach while shedding the Bugatti Boys imagery that flopped last year and keeps his eye on the ball in the insanely focused fashion that was his calling card in 2011, he’ll be all that and more.

#2-Todd Haley’s deaf ear needs to stay deaf. No Todd isn’t deaf. But he did a great job of acting like it when all talking heads kept with the “Whens the meltdown gonna happen?” themery (the imagery created in your head due to the constant pounding of the theme that captivated so many last year).

There has always been, and always will be a butting of the heads when it’s game-on time. Competitors wouldn’t be competitors if they didn’t have the fire down below stoked to somewhere in between bonfire and volcanic. But in the constant barrage of expectation, sometimes those expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Todd was brought in to do a job, and part of that was to get Ben to stay upright and deliver the ball on schedule. Prior to Ben’s injury, the message got through and Roethlisberger was having a pretty dad-gum good year.  Take it for what you will, but QB’s have a pretty good track record of  exceptional years in the second season under Todd. So do running backs catching the ball out of the backfield.

All in all, Todd needs to keep paying attention to his “ïnner voice” rather than the voices on the outside.

#1-Big Ben’s (in random order), foot, head, shoulder, sternum, knee, hand, ankle, ribs, take-your-pick. He’s the man. Nothing rolls on offense in Pittsburgh without #7.  I have tremendous respect for his pain tolerance, his drive and his ability. I have never personally witnessed  anyone else so capable of capturing the big moment of a game, and do so with a smile on his face while others are trying to avoid losing control of bodily functions.

And therein lies the rub. Without Ben, the Steelers go from contenders to contentious. They will always believe that they can win, with or without Ben, and state so vociferously. But the fact of the matter stands that Ben is one of the 3 or 4 premier quarterbacks in the game. You may brawl your way through a short portion of the season, but without #7, there’s no grabbing a Lombardi.

 

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