In its best years, team has responded well to adversity
Never in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers has there been a more tumultuous offseason than in 2010.
Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes was released after the league handed him a four-game suspension for substance abuse, and Jeff Reed had a meeting with league headquarters about his two brushes with the law in 2009.
Obviously, the main topic of conversation has been Big Ben Roethlisberger and his Georgia nightclub debacle in March. Since the league has turned his six-game suspension to four, making him eligible for return on Oct. 17 against Cleveland.
Amidst all of this turmoil, there is a talented football team ready to come out of the tunnel today at Heinz Field against the Atlanta Falcons.
The 2009 season was Rashard Mendenhall's first season as the starter. He showed he has the makings of a good one, rushing for 1,108 yards and averaging 4.6 yards a carry. He should surpass that in 2010.
The offensive line got a great boost from this year's first-round pick, center Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey's first training camp was such a success that they cut incumbent Justin Hartwig.
Mike Wallace is ready to step in and become not only the deep threat he is but an every-down receiver who can also make the tough catches. Look for him to finish this season as an emerging star.
Dennis Dixon played admirably in his only start in Baltimore last season. He has the athletic ability to elude the rush and extend plays.
He will get more comfortable in his four-game fill-in role. The main offensive worry is 35-year-old tackle Flozell Adams, acquired from Dallas after the injury to Willie Colon.
The Blitzburgh defense took a big step back last season.
The play from the cornerbacks was disheartening and sometimes awful. Injuries to safety Troy Polamalu and end Aaron Smith were too much for this unit to handle.
The Steelers reached back in time to bring back linebacker Larry Foote and corner Bryant McFadden to help bolster a unit that has been able to dominate offenses in the past.
Ziggy Hood, the 2009 first-round pick, is ready to play a heavier role in both the run and pass games, and outside backers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley form the best tandem in the game. Look for inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons to have his most consistent year as a pro.
The Steelers are tired of hearing about off-field issues. They have been chomping at the bit to start this season. In 2005, the Black and Gold needed to win its final four games to make the playoffs. They did it and rode the momentum all the way to "One for the Thumb."
The 2008 Steelers were faced with the toughest schedule possibly in NFL history.
Guess who was on that podium in Tampa after Super Bowl XLIII? You are getting the point. This offseason will always be a dark spot on this great organization, but the fuel has fed the fire. This team will reach double-digit victories and the playoffs.
As for today, Atlanta brings in a lot of talent in quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner. The home crowd helps as Dixon throws and runs for one, Mendenhall gets over 100 yards and another score, and the defense caps it off.
For starters, my prediction is:?Steelers 28, Falcons 17.
Craig Andros is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan, often commenting on the Steelers. He resides in Altoona.