Pittsburgh Steelers: Cody Wallace

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is fine and will start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Roethlisberger surfaced on the Steelers’ final injury report after he was limited in practice Friday for a non-injury reason.

Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski are the Steelers' only active quarterbacks for their 1 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger will try to improve to 17-2 lifetime against NFL teams at Heinz Field, and he needs 117 passing yards to reach 35,000 for his career.

The Steelers are without a handful of starters Sunday because of injuries.

Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) were declared out earlier this week.

Left guard Ramon Foster will miss his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury despite practicing every day last week. Foster was limited in practice Friday, and he will be replaced by Cody Wallace in the starting lineup.

Joining Foster, Taylor and Shazier on the Steelers’ inactives list are wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and quarterback Landry Jones.

Foster won't play against Panthers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
CHARLOTTE -- Pittsburgh Steelers left guard Ramon Foster will not play Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers, and Cody Wallace will take his place in the starting lineup.

The Panthers will be without a pair of starters as they try to improve to 3-0. Running back DeAngelo Williams and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery will not play in the 8:30 p.m. ET game because of thigh injuries.

Cotchery has been hoping to play against his former teammates -- he caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes for the Steelers last season -- but the 11th-year veteran got hurt last week in practice and is unable to play.

Foster, who hurt his ankle last week in practice, was deemed not healthy enough to play against the Panthers. Wallace will make his fifth career start -- all have come since last December.

Rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) joins Foster as the Steelers players who won't play Sunday because of injuries.

In addition to Foster and Archer, the Steelers deactivated wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, cornerback B.W. Webb and quarterback Landry Jones.

Wide receiver Lance Moore, who missed the first two games of the season because of a groin injury, will make his Steelers debut.

Pittsburgh Steelers' projected inactives

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
CHARLOTTE -- The Steelers 46-man roster is a little harder to predict this week with starting left guard Ramon Foster’s status uncertain because of an ankle injury.

My guess is Foster will try to convince the coaches to let him play but Mike Tomlin told the sixth-year veteran late last week that he won’t put him in a position fail.

Playing against a stout Panthers defensive line on a gimpy ankle probably isn’t a recipe for success so I think the Steelers plug in Cody Wallace at left guard and give Foster another week to recover.

Rookie running back Dri Archer won’t play in the 8:30 p.m. game against the Panthers because of an ankle injury and he will join Foster on the Steelers' list of inactive players.

Here are the five other players I expect the Steelers to deactivate tonight.

WR Martavis Bryant: The rookie is healthy but there isn’t a place for him on the game-day roster for the second consecutive game. Darrius Heyward-Bey contributes on special teams, Bryant won’t get the nod over Lance Moore or Justin Brown and the Steelers aren’t dressing six wide receivers.

NT Daniel McCullers: If he was an answer to the Steelers’ struggles on defense the 6-foot-7, 352-pounds man-child would be on the field. McCullers, however, is still learning and probably a long way from playing. That could change, though, if the Steelers continue to give up rushing yards in chunks.

OL Wesley Johnson: If Foster doesn’t play, I think Chris Hubbard gets a helmet over Johnson. The rookie fifth-round pick is more versatile but Hubbard has played almost exclusively at left guard. He could play there if Wallace is needed at center or right guard in the event of an injury.

CB B.W. Webb: There is absolutely no reason the Steelers need to dress 11 defensive backs, something they did in a 26-6 loss to the Ravens. Webb, who played just two special-teams snaps in Baltimore, is the odd man out tonight.

QB Landry Jones: He has yet to dress for an NFL game. There is no reason for that to change tonight.
PITTSBURGH -- Nobody in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room is more well-traveled than Cody Wallace, and the circuitous path he took to Pittsburgh explains why the veteran center is still renting furniture even though he signed a three-year, $3.48 million contract in March.

“We’re not putting roots down,” Wallace said with a laugh. “We make it home but we’re not going out and buying a bunch of stuff.”

Or much of anything if the Wallace family furniture is any indication.

But Wallace, who is with his sixth NFL team since breaking into the league in 2008, has found a measure of security since joining the Steelers last September.

And they could ask him again to uphold the team's "next man up" mantra.

Left guard Ramon Foster is listed as questionable for the Sunday night game at Carolina and if the sixth-year veteran is unable to play Wallace will likely get the start against the Panthers.

Wallace proved to the Steelers that he could fill in up front near the end of last season albeit at a different position.

Wallace started the last four games at center after Fernando Velasco went down with a torn Achilles tendon, and the offensive line gave up just six sacks while the Steelers averaged 115.3 rushing yards per game in going 3-1 down the stretch.

The Steelers saw enough from Wallace to sign him to the three-year deal.

And those four games provided validation for Wallace’s decision to chase his dream even as it led him all over the country after getting released by the 49ers in 2010.

“It gave me an opportunity to show what I could do for an extended period of time and give them the confidence that they can trust [me] for a game instead of just, 'Oh get us through the half,'" Wallace said of the four starts he made in 2013, which were the first four of his career. “I think the coaches have a good feeling about me as a backup interior guy if they need to plug me in.”

The nine games Wallace dressed for last season equaled the number of NFL games he had suited up for prior to joining the Steelers.

After the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder established himself as the Steelers’ top backup along the interior of the offensive line during training camp and the preseason, he mentioned to his wife, Chely, how they had survived a final cut for the first time since 2009.

That doesn’t mean that the Wallaces, who have two young children, feel like they have it made.

“We love it here and hopefully we can make it home for the next few years, however long they’ll let me stay,” said Wallace, who initially signed with the Steelers a little more than a year ago after getting cut by the Buccaneers. “For me this game’s just so fun and it’s what I worked for my whole life. I’ll play as long as someone will have me.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers could be without starting left guard Ramon Foster Sunday night in Carolina.

 Foster was listed as questionable for the 8:30 p.m. ET game, and he has been limited in practice since twisting his ankle early this week in practice.

Cody Wallace, the Steelers’ backup center, will likely start at left guard if Foster is unable to play against the Panthers. Wallace started the past four games at center last season and played well enough to convince the Steelers to sign him to a three-year, $3.48 million contract in March.

The Steelers will likely be without Dri Archer for a second consecutive game. The rookie running back/wide receiver is listed as doubtful after trying to work his way back from an ankle injury.

The Steelers listed all other players who are dealing with injuries as probable, which means wide receiver Lance Moore will play Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium, barring a setback.

Moore did not play in the Steelers’ first two games because of a groin injury, but he has said that he is back to normal.

The Steelers signed Moore in March to replace Jerricho Cotchery as their No. 3 wide receiver, and there is a chance they may not see Cotchery Sunday night.

The Panthers listed Cotchery and running back DeAngelo Williams as questionable. Both are dealing with thigh injuries.

Steelers' Archer, Moore out vs. Ravens

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a little shorthanded on offense Thursday night in Baltimore.

Running back Dri Archer (ankle) and wide receiver Lance Moore (groin) were ruled out for the Steelers’ game against the Ravens.

Archer sprained his ankle in the Steelers’ 30-27 victory over the Browns last Sunday and Moore did not play in the season opener because of a nagging groin injury.

Justin Brown will again serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said fullback Will Johnson will also play running back in case of an injury to starter Le’Veon Bell or backup LeGarrette Blount.

Brown caught three passes for 38 yards against the Browns and played extensively in his first NFL game, which reflected the confidence Haley has in him.

“Justin did a lot of real good things for his first time out there in a home opener with a different level of intensity that you see from preseason games that he played in to real games,” Haley said of Brown’s NFL debut. “He handled it well. He fought through his mistakes and bounced back. He didn’t let it get him too down or too up when he made some plays. And he didn’t shy away from competition. I think it’s a great start to grow from."

All other Steelers players who have been dealing with injuries, including wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder), cornerback Brice McCain (groin), safety Shamarko Thomas (Achilles, ankle) and center Cody Wallace (hamstring, finger), are listed as probable.
PITTSBURGH -- Running back Dri Archer and wide receiver Lance Moore did not practice on Tuesday, putting each player’s availability for Thursday night in doubt.

Archer left the Steelers’ 30-27 win over the Browns last Sunday with a sprained ankle and he did not practice a day after he was a limited participant in drills. If Archer can’t play against the Ravens, fullback Will Johnson will also serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 running back.

Johnson got a carry in the Steelers’ final preseason game, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the team had hoped to get him a little more work at the position.

“He’s a competent runner that’s a big back, has good vision,” Haley of Johnson. “He has to find the same holes when he is playing fullback. He’s a nifty, athletic guy. It’s not a bad emergency plan.”

In other alternate plans, Justin Brown will likely serve as the Steelers’ No. 3 wide receiver with Moore still hampered by a groin injury. Moore did not play in the season opener and missing practice on Tuesday does nothing to help his chances to returning to action against the Ravens.

The Steelers did get some good news from the injury front on Tuesday.

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder) and safety Shamarko Thomas (Achilles/ankle) were full participants in practice.

Bryant did not play last Sunday while Thomas left the game with a lower leg injury.

In other injury news, center Cody Wallace (finger, hamstring) did not practice on Tuesday while safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor, tight end Heath Miller and defensive end Brett Keisel were given practice off by coach Mike Tomlin.

Moore, McCain ruled out for Steelers

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Justin Brown will get a chance on Sunday to show he belongs on the 53-man roster.

Brown will serve as the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver as well as primary slot receiver against the visiting Browns.

The second-year man, who spent all of last season on the Steelers' practice squad, gets an early opportunity with veteran wide receiver Lance Moore ruled out for the 1 p.m. ET game Sunday due to a groin injury.

Cornerback Brice McCain has also been ruled out of the season opener with a groin injury while rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant won’t play against the Browns because of a shoulder injury.

Bryant is listed as doubtful on the Steelers’ final injury report of the week but the fourth-round pick hasn’t practiced enough to play against the Browns even if he was healthy enough to do so.

Center/guard Cody Wallace is questionable because of a broken pinkie while linebacker Sean Spence (knee), long-snapper Greg Warren (knee) and tight end Matt Spaeth (hamstring) are all listed as probable for Sunday.

The Steelers are likely to dress eight offensive linemen even if Wallace is able to suit up in case he suffers a setback. Rookie Wesley Johnson will likely be a part of the 46-man game-day roster if the Steelers dress eight offensive linemen because of his versatility.

Here are my projected Steelers inactives for the season opener in addition to Moore, McCain and Bryant:
  • NT Daniel McCullers: It wouldn’t surprise me if the rookie plays on Sunday since coach Mike Tomlin likes to dress an extra defensive lineman early in the season. But defensive end Cam Thomas can also play nose tackle and that position won’t receive a ton of snaps anyway.
  • CB D.W. Webb: The former Dallas Cowboy is still learning a new defense and safety Shamarko Thomas can play cornerback if the need arises there.
  • G Chris Hubbard: The Steelers aren’t dressing nine offensive lineman, and he is the odd man out even if they go with eight against the Browns.
  • QB Landry Jones: The second-year man didn’t dress for any games last season.
PITTSBURGH -- Brett Keisel's role on the Steelers’ defense remains unclear but the 13th-year veteran apparently won’t be limited by a snap count in the regular-season opener.

“I think he will be able to take a full load in this game,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He [just] may be a little tighter on Monday than usual.”

Keisel re-signed with the Steelers on Aug. 20 and the veteran defensive end played in only one preseason game.

Keisel, who started the previous eight seasons, is second on the depth chart at right defensive end.

LeBeau said he is confident Keisel can handle an extended number of snaps Sunday because of how his body responded after playing in the Steelers’ preseason finale last Thursday.

The Steelers remain relatively healthy with the season opener against the Browns approaching, though cornerback Brice McCain (groin) and center Cody Wallace (finger) did not practice on Thursday.

Wallace practiced on Wednesday and McCain was a limited participant in drills.

Along with Wallace and McCain, wide receivers Lance Moore (groin) and Martavis Bryant (shoulder) missed practice on Thursday.

Bryant is not expected to play Sunday and offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Moore will be “iffy down to the wire.”

Justin Brown will replace Moore as the No. 3 wide receiver if the latter is unable to play against the Browns.

For Cleveland, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (wrist), guard Paul McQuistan (ankle) and defensive end John Hughes (hamstring) didn’t practice on Thursday.

Bryant and McQuistan have missed the last two days of practice.
PITTSBURGH – A handful of players, including a trio of rookies fighting for roster spots, won’t play in the Steelers’ third preseason game on Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Coach Mike Tomlin has ruled out cornerback Shaquille Richardson (knee), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and tight end Eric Waters (concussion) for the 7:30 p.m. game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Joining the rookies on the list of players who won’t suit up against the Eagles are center Cody Wallace (finger) and long snapper Greg Warren (knee).

Tomlin said Wallace is recovering from surgery he needed to fix a broken finger.

Among the players who are questionable for Thursday are fullback Will Johnson, safety Will Allen, running back Tauren Poole and cornerback Devin Smith.

All are dealing with hamstring injuries, Tomlin said.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is expected to play against the Eagles unless he has a setback in practice on Tuesday. Jones, who has been plagued by a groin injury, did not play in the Steelers’ 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills last Saturday.

Tomlin said the team will evaluate Jones after practice.

Tomlin did not say how much the starters will play against the Eagles, but they are expected to stay in the game for at least a half.

That means reserves who are trying to make the team will have to make the most of the limited snaps they receive in Philadelphia.

“We’re getting into the meat of this thing a little bit and if guys are going to make a move it’s kind of now or never,” Tomlin said Tuesday at a news conference. “I like that sense of urgency in the guys as we prepare this week, and I think it’s creating a good, competitive environment.”
This is the seventh in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next up is center.

Players on the roster: Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace and Chris Elkins.

Projected starter: Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowler returns to anchor the offensive line after missing all but eight snaps last season because of a torn ACL. The Steelers left no doubt that they expect Pouncey to make a healthy return -- and a return to the elite tier at his position -- by signing him to five-year contract extension in June. The new deal made Pouncey one of the highest-paid centers in the NFL.

Projected number on 53-man roster: One. The only reason I didn’t include Wallace here is I had him making the team at guard in an earlier post. The journeyman appears to have found a measure of stability with the Steelers, and he will serve as the primary interior line reserve.

Rookie watch: Elkins, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, got singled out by Pouncey early in camp for holding his own in pass-blocking drills. Elkins is generously listed at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, and he is small by offensive lineman standards. That is why Pouncey tagged him with the nickname “Chicken Nugget” during offseason practices. Elkins played sparingly in the Steelers’ 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills, and his best hope is to land on the practice squad.

What we learned in camp: Pouncey is all the way back from the knee injury that cost him almost all of the 2013 season. Just as in offseason practices he wasn’t limited at St. Vincent College though coach Mike Tomlin gave him the occasional day off. Rookie Wesley Johnson, who is listed as a tackle and guard, also played center. That, in fact, is where the fifth-round draft pick played in the Steelers’ first two preseason games.

He said it: “He really didn’t get a chance to play last year so that’s a lot of frustration that’s behind him now and you can see how excited he is about playing again. I’m looking forward for him to be part of that. He’s another guy that prepares well and it’s important to him and he's very prideful. He’s their leader out there. There’s no doubt about that so I think it’s going to be fun to watch unfold.” -- New offensive line coach Mike Munchak on Pouncey
This is the sixth in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is guard.

Players on the roster: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Cody Wallace, Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning and Will Simmons.

Projected starters: Foster and DeCastro. Foster, the elder statesman of a relatively young offensive line, is solid at left guard. DeCastro has Pro Bowl written all over him after playing well in 2013 in his first full NFL season.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Three. I’m counting Wallace here even though he is also the Steelers’ primary center. Hubbard has a chance if the Steelers keep nine offensive linemen, but I only see them carrying eight.

Rookie watch: Simmons signed with the Steelers in May as an undrafted rookie, and his best hope is to land on the practice squad.

What we learned in camp: The Steelers are fine at guard as long as Foster and DeCastro stay relatively healthy. Foster missed a significant amount of practice time after reporting late to camp due to the death of his mother and then dealing with knee swelling. DeCastro had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2013 and the former first-round pick is poised to take another step under first-year offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Hubbard has improved after spending all of last season on the practice squad but probably not enough to overtake Wallace. He still has practice squad eligibility.

He said it: “I’ve watched him on tape and I thought he was a good pick for the Steelers when he came here so I’m glad that I get a chance to work with someone like him. He wants to get better and really all that for a player is up to him. The ability is there, he wants it, he is improving. There’s all kinds of opportunities for him to get better.” – Munchak on DeCastro.
Ben Roethlisberger’s only completion of the game turned into a highlight-reel play thanks to Dri Archer. The speedy rookie caught a short pass on a well-executed bubble screen and looked every bit as fast as advertised in scooting 46 yards and setting up an early field goal in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

The Steelers could not protect a fourth-quarter lead in losing their preseason opener Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. They haven't won a preseason game since 2012.

Roethlisberger played just one series before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski. The offense couldn’t build on a promising start as the Steelers failed to reach the end zone until they scored a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first-team defense gave up a 73-yard touchdown run to Rashad Jennings early in the game but didn’t allow much more in the quarter it was on the field.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ first preseason game:
  • Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had to be furious after Jennings scooted through a yawning gap on the right side of the Steelers’ defense on the way to the game’s first touchdown. Defensive end Cameron Heyward was knocked out of his gap by a pulling guard, leaving a huge hole and resulting in the kind of big play that made it seem like 2013 all over again for the Steelers’ defense. Coach Mike Tomlin was not happy with his secondary on the play as safety Will Allen had a chance to get Jennings on the ground but couldn’t make the tackle. Jennings outraced cornerbacks Cortez Allen and William Gay to the end zone.
  • Sean Spence, playing in his first game in almost two years, looked terrific. Spence, starting for the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker, shot a gap on the first series of the game and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw a third-down pass into the turf. Spence later stuffed Andre Brown for a short gain on a running play that resulted in a holding call in the Giants. Spence, who has returned from a career-threatening knee injury, had one blemish, an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on special teams. But the Steelers couldn’t have asked for more from Spence, who is their third-best inside linebacker and solid insurance in case of an injury to Shazier.
  • Markus Wheaton made a nice grab on a post-corner route and his 28-yard reception was the second-longest gain by the Steelers in their preseason opener. Wheaton, however, needs a blocking tutorial or four from former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Wheaton won’t like seeing his blocking efforts on several plays, including one on a 7-yard run by Tauren Poole. Wheaton didn’t lock up on anyone as Poole broke into the open field, allowing the Giants to minimize the damage on Poole’s run.
  • The first-team offensive line played well in limited action, providing a nice push on the Steelers’ first possession of the game when they ran on the Giants first-team defense. The second-team offensive line really struggled. Left tackle Mike Adams did not help himself, getting overwhelmed several times by speed pass-rushers, including two-time Pro Bowl selection Jason Pierre-Paul. Guy Whimper, playing right tackle, was beaten badly on a passing play in the third quarter and center Cody Wallace was flagged for holding in the same period.
  • Outside linebacker Howard Jones and defensive end Josh Mauro were among the undrafted rookies who stood out. Jones recovered a pair of fumbles, returning one for a 28-yard touchdown. Mauro, playing with the second-team defense, blew up a passing play by bull-rushing a running back into the lap of Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib. He also appeared to hold his ground at right defensive end more often than not.

Steelers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
LATROBE, Pa. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp:
  • The competition has started. The separation has not. “One unit will have a good day and piss the other unit off. They’ll come back and win the next one,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday following the second padded practice of training camp. “There’s ebb and flow.” With the first preseason game still more than a week away, Tomlin is using the practices to pit different players against each other and have them hone their technique in the crucible of competition. “We’ve got some guys that have the proper energy and urgency but are still growing in technical areas,” Tomlin said.
  • Troy Polamalu drew a roar from the crowd at St. Vincent College when the veteran strong safety intercepted a pass that would have easily gone for a touchdown had it been an actual game. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier nearly intercepted a pass when he arrived at the same time as a short pass over the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. There was just enough contact between the two to keep Shazier from hanging on to the ball. The first-round pick looked a little gimpy after the near interception, but Tomlin said Shazier did not get hurt on the play.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower suffered a setback when he sustained a high ankle sprain. The seventh-round draft pick will miss “at least a week,” Tomlin said. Running back Le'Veon Bell (hamstring), linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) and wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday.
  • Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant flashed his talent a couple of times Wednesday after a quiet start to camp. The fourth-round pick caught a deep ball early in practice after beating cornerback Lewis Toler in one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs. Bryant caught several passes Wednesday and nearly made a spectacular sideline grab of a ball that was slightly underthrown and was ultimately broken up because cornerback Antwon Blake had done a good job of establishing inside position. Bryant did have a bad drop near the end of practice.
  • There were several highlights from the pass-rushing/pass-protection competition. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked Cody Wallace on his wallet after bull-rushing the reserve center and rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers ran over tackle Mike Adams later in the drill. The offensive line, however, appeared to hold its own as a group in the drill.
  • It’s tough to get a read on how much progress second-year quarterback Landry Jones is making. The 2013 fourth-round pick completed consecutive passes after showing nice pocket awareness and good footwork during an 11-on-11 drill. The former Oklahoma star, however, took a sack and threw a bad interception on the next two plays. He is still very much a work in progress.
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski recently ranked all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is sixth on his list after Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

"Jaws" performed his usual exhaustive film review in compiling his list, and he offered strong praise for Roethlisberger as well as an astonishing statistic:
I thought Big Ben had one of his best seasons in 2013. We all know he has a unique skill set, with the ability to be a pocket passer but also extend the play when it's necessary. Ultimately, there are two sets of numbers that stand out to me for Roethlisberger. The first is that he has 156 career starts and has won 67 percent of them. That's astonishing. The second is that veteran quarterbacks understand the necessity of coming away with touchdowns and not field goals in the red zone. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has 27 TDs and zero INTs inside the 20-yard line."

You can debate where Roethlisberger ranks among NFL quarterback but one thing that can't be disputed: Big Ben is the player the Steeler can least afford to lose for an extended period in 2014.

The 11th-year veteran makes the no-huddle attack go and that will again be an important component of the Steelers' offense. Roethlisberger, who turned 32 in March, is still playing at a high level and he is coming off a season in which he took every snap. Bruce Gradkowski is a capable backup but nothing would help the Steelers more as they try to return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus than if Gradkowski spends most if not all of the upcoming season on the sidelines.

Here are four other players whom the Steelers cannot afford to lose this season.

WR Antonio Brown: The Steelers' wide receivers become average if Brown is sidelined by a significant injury. The reigning Steelers MVP caught 110 passes for a team-record 1,499 yards last season and he will again make the other wideouts better simply because of the attention he commands from opposing defenses.

C Maurkice Pouncey: The Steelers got lucky that Fernando Velasco and later Cody Wallace played so capably at center after Pouncey tore his ACL eight plays into last season. They cannot count on that fortune again if Pouncey goes down. The three-time Pro Bowler is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, and he is eager to reward the Steelers for the lucrative contract extension they gave him last month.

LB Lawrence Timmons: Durable and incredibly productive, Timmons should have at least one Pro Bowl on his resume by now. He will call the defense until rookie Ryan Shazier is ready to assume that responsibility. Simply getting lined up properly proved to be a problem for the defense after Larry Foote went down in the 2013 opener with a season-ending arm injury.

DE Cameron Heyward: The 2011 first-round pick is the one proven commodity that the Steelers have at defensive end. Heyward pushed his way into the starting lineup after the fourth game of last season, and he led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures in 2013 and tied for the team lead with five sacks. To say there is a significant drop-off after Heyward at defensive end is an understatement.