Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Allen

The Steelers play four of their first six games away from Heinz Field. A 4-2 start to the schedule with early games at Baltimore and Carolina would bode well for the Steelers' rebounding from back-to-back 8-8 seasons, especially given that they play three consecutive home games after that opening stretch. Another slow start might allow doubt to seep into the Steelers' locker room, and it will certainly turn up the heat on coach Mike Tomlin.

Complete Steelers season preview.
PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence said the injury he sustained in the Steelers' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles is only a minor setback and that he hopes to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Spence sprained the post collateral ligament (PCL) in his right knee last Thursday night and the injury will prevent the third-year man from playing in the Steelers' final preseason game.

Spence
But Spence said he will sit out the Steelers' game Thursday night against the visiting Carolina Panthers only as a precaution.

"It's not a very serious injury. I should be good," Spence said. "I'm going to sit out this week and try to give it a go next week."

When coach Mike Tomlin announced last Thursday that Spence had been hurt in the Eagles game it resonated with fans because of what the 2012 third-round pick has overcome just to get back on the field.

Spence shredded his left knee two years ago in the Steelers' final preseason game, tearing all of the major ligaments and dislocating his kneecap. Spence also sustained nerve damage and the injury almost ended his career.

Spence has made it all the way back from that devastating setback, and he is a lock to make the 53-man roster.

The 5-11, 231-pounder said the severity of the injury he suffered two years ago let him know that he didn't experience anything close to that last week in Philadelphia.

Spence actually returned to the game briefly after hurting his knee.

"I went out there and did another play and it just didn't feel right," Spence said. "It's smart that I did stop because I didn't want to make it worse than what it was."

Neither Spence nor starting outside linebacker Jason Worilds practiced on Monday, Tomlin said.

Worilds also hurt his knee against the Eagles but Tomlin said it is not a serious injury.

Among the players who had been hurt but practiced in at least a limited capacity on Monday, Tomlin said, were wide receiver Lance Moore (leg), safety Will Allen (hamstring) and cornerback Devin Smith (hamstring).

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 21, 2014
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The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) play Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offensive starters will play at least a half, and look for the Steelers to run the no-huddle attack extensively, matching the fast pace their defense will see from the Eagles. Roethlisberger wants to get work with the no-huddle offense on the road, where he will have to rely on hand signals more because of crowd noise. It will also be interesting to see how much the Steelers run out of their no-huddle offense. They wanted to establish the run with their starters in their first preseason game. Check. They wanted to come out throwing in the no-huddle in their second preseason game. Check. Now it’s time to see the Steelers run the ball extensively out of the no-huddle, as that will be a significant component of their offense this season.
  • An ankle injury to Shamarko Thomas last season provided an opportunity that veteran Will Allen exploited. Allen established himself as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, relegating Thomas to special-teams duty the rest of the season. Now Allen is nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Steelers’ second preseason game, and the 11th-year veteran might not play against the Eagles. Thomas looks like a different player in his second season, and he drew pretty high praise from coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday. If Thomas wins the job as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety, does that make Allen expendable? It could if the Steelers only keep four safeties and third-year man Robert Golden continues to play well.
  • Roethlisberger challenged wide receiver Martavis Bryant earlier this week to practice with more of a purpose, to practice like Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. If Roethlisberger isn’t handling the rookie fourth-round pick with kid gloves, that is because the Steelers think Bryant can be an asset in the passing game -- and sooner rather than later. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant has a unique blend of size and speed, and he is the kind of wideout whom the Steelers have rarely had with Roethlisberger at quarterback. I’d love to see Bryant get some work with the first-team offense. Same with Justin Brown, who has just three catches for 15 yards in two preseason games and has received most of his playing time with the backup quarterbacks.
This is the 13th in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every Pittsburgh Steelers position. The final look is at safety.

Players on the roster: Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield and Ross Ventrone.

Polamalu
Mitchell
Projected starters: Polamalu and Mitchell. Polamalu remains the face of the defense, and the 12th-year veteran won’t have to play inside linebacker in the dime package this season. That bodes well for the eight-time Pro Bowler staying healthy after playing every snap last season. This does not: Polamalu has not played every game in consecutive seasons since 2004-05. Mitchell replaces Ryan Clark at free safety, and the Steelers signed the sixth-year veteran to provide speed and another playmaker on the back end of the defense. Mitchell had four interceptions last season with Carolina -- one less than the Steelers' safeties combined for in 2013.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Five. Golden makes the team based on his special teams play in the past and the strides the third-year man has made at safety. If the Steelers only keep four safeties, they will have a tough decision to make between Golden and Allen.

Rookie watch: The Steelers don't have any rookies but first-year man Jordan Dangerfield opened eyes in training camp and is a strong candidate for the practice squad, which has been increased from eight to 10 players for all teams. The 5-11, 200-pounder is a fearless hitter and he seems to be around the ball a lot in practice.

What we learned in camp: The Steelers tried to preserve Polamalu as much as possible, holding him out of live tackling drills as well as their first preseason game. Polamalu said he feels a little better from a physical standpoint going into this season, which certainly is a positive. Mitchell hasn’t had the easiest of transitions as he missed the first week of camp because of a groin injury and then stood out for two plays in preseason games for the wrong reasons. Mitchell took a bad angle on New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings’ 73-yard touchdown run in the preseason opener. Last Saturday against the Buffalo Bills he was penalized for taunting after a tackle he didn’t even make. Thomas looks like he is ready to make the kind of jump the Steelers expect between a player’s first and second seasons. The Polamalu protégé -- and eventual successor -- should be the No. 3 safety this season.

He said it: “We’ve made a lot of plays this camp, which is nice. But I don’t get infatuated, honestly with what happens in camp, I really don’t. There’s a lot of guys you see in preseasons that stand out in camp, more than you see stand out in the regular season, so I don’t get too infatuated with guys that are really making plays.” -- Polamalu.
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.”
LATROBE, Pa. -- The opportunity that Troy Polamalu has rarely if ever offered one of his younger teammates can be traced to a text message.

Shamarko Thomas sent one to his mentor, telling Polamalu that he wanted to be great. That led to Polamalu talking to the second-year man about how he carries himself off the field. And the eight-time Pro Bowler eventually extended an invitation to Thomas to work out with him in California.

[+] EnlargeShamarko Thomas
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsShamarko Thomas is looking to benefit after participating in recent workouts with Troy Polamalu.
Thomas took Polamalu up on the offer and the two safeties trained together for a week between the end of offseason practices and the start of training camp.

“It felt like a month because he trains so hard,” Thomas said. “For a guy like that who’s going to be a Hall of Famer to take me out there and show me the ropes, it was an amazing experience.”

The player whom cornerback Ike Taylor nicknamed “Headache” around this time last year because of his hitting ability is expected to make a big jump in 2014.

Thomas has shown how serious he is about emerging in his second NFL season by doing things such as traveling across the country to train with one of the game’s premier safeties. What also bodes well for Thomas is that Polamalu apparently thinks the 5-foot-9, 217-pounder has as much promise as the Steelers do.

Hence, the extra attention he has paid to Thomas since the Steelers took the Syracuse product in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.

“I was the first person ever to work out with him [in California],” Thomas said. “I changed a lot from my first year to my second year and that’s from Troy talking to me every day or staying in my ear about God or the way I train and carry myself.”

Thomas played a significant number of snaps in the first half of last season. He barely saw the field in the season half of the season -- except for special teams -- after spraining his ankle and falling behind veteran Will Allen on the depth chart.

Thomas will be given every opportunity to become the Steelers’ primary backup at safety this season, and he will get extra work through the first week of camp with starting free safety Mike Mitchell sidelined by a groin injury.

“Everything’s slowed down and I’m confident and I’m just ready to play," Thomas said. "Last year it was a fast game and there were a lot of things going through your head. It’s calming down and I’m just ready for everything. I’ve matured a lot.”

The training sessions with Polamalu have been a part of the maturation process and they left a lasting impression on Thomas for several reasons.

“They were like a karate movie,” Thomas said. “It’s like some ninja stuff, but it works for him and I felt like it worked for me, too.”

Position preview: Safety

July, 18, 2014
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The final one in a series that looks at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching, we take a look at the Steelers' safeties.

Returning starter: Troy Polamalu. The eight-time Pro Bowler played every game last season and, as usual, did a little bit of everything for the Steelers. Polamalu recorded 69 tackles, forced a career-high five fumbles and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. The durability that Polamalu exhibited while playing a team-high 1,041 snaps in 2013 was especially impressive considering he often played inside linebacker on passing downs.

New face: Mike Mitchell. The Steelers moved quickly to get younger and faster on the back end of their defense, signing Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract on the first day of free agency. Mitchell, who turned 27 last month, enjoyed a breakout season with the Carolina Panthers after four mostly nondescript ones in Oakland. Mitchell intercepted four passes and notched 3.5 sacks while making 66 tackles for the Panthers in 2013. He should be a significant upgrade over Ryan Clark at free safety.

On the bubble: Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone. The Steelers appear to be set as far as their top four safeties with veteran Will Allen and second-year man Shamarko Thomas providing depth behind Polamalu and Mitchell. Golden and Ventrone are among those battling for a roster spot based on their special-teams play and Golden has the clear advantage here.

By the numbers: The previous two seasons that Polamalu played every game (2008 and 2011) he suited up for five and seven games, respectively, the following seasons. Polamalu, 33, has not played every game in back-to-back seasons since 2004-05.

Did you know: Ventrone only played one year of high school football at Chartiers Valley, which is in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bridgeville. He played in eight games for the New England Patriots in 2011 and his brother, Ray, is a safety for the San Francisco 49ers.

Quotable: “I don’t think it’s been hard at all. Coach (Dick) LeBeau and coach (Carnell) Lake are both great teachers and I don’t want to say it’s been easy but they’ve made it easier on me to pick up the playbook. It’s not rocket science.” – Mitchell on learning the Steelers’ defense.

Outlook: Age and the grind of 11 NFL seasons has caught up with Polamalu a little bit, but he is still a top-tier safety as well as one of the few proven playmakers that the Steelers have on defense. Mitchell should make Polamalu better and the addition of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier should free up Polamalu to play all over the field. Thomas is expected to make a big jump in his second season and he could overtake Allen as the No. 3 safety.
PITTSBURGH -- Shamarko Thomas has made quite an impression on the player he is expected to eventually succeed at strong safety.

Per veteran cornerback Ike Taylor, Thomas is training in California with Troy Polamalu after accepting an invitation from the eight-time Pro Bowler to work out together following the conclusion of Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason practices.

Thomas
Polamalu
As Taylor said on TribLive Radio this week, this is not something Polamalu does on a regular basis -- and that Thomas should respect the opportunity to work closely with one of the best safeties of his generation.

“I was telling Shamarko before he went out there, ‘Shamarko, that’s something huge because the dude don’t ever do that. As far as learning tendencies and the defense, just the way of life, or just learning how to be a good person, you’re walking with Jesus on earth right there,’ ” Taylor said on his weekly radio show.

The invitation Polamalu extended represents as strong an endorsement as Thomas could receive from one of the players he attached himself to last season as a rookie.

It certainly is a promising sign after Thomas worked his way into the Steelers’ quarters package as a third safety in 2013 only to lose the spot to veteran Will Allen in the second half of the season.

Thomas played 184 defensive snaps last season but none in the Steelers’ final seven games. Allen, who re-signed with the Steelers last October, played well after a high-ankle sprain sidelined Thomas, and he held onto the job as third safety in the quarters package.

Allen, who is entering his 11th NFL season, continued to play ahead of Thomas during offseason practices, taking Polamalu’s spot at strong safety during organized team activities. Polamalu skipped the voluntary practices so he could train in California, though the eight-time Pro Bowler took part in mandatory minicamp, which ended last week.

The Steelers have high hopes for Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2013, and the 5-foot-9, 217-pounder should stand out more at training camp where players will wear pads and hit after doing neither during offseason practices.

“Shamarko is known for knocking people out,” Taylor said, “and the only way you’re going to see him knock someone out is in training camp, preseason games, regular-season games. That’s what Shamarko Thomas excels at.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers again worked on their no-huddle offense Thursday, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appears to have more peace of mind about the attack than he did a couple of weeks ago.

“I think everybody’s doing a good job and that we can get back on track pretty quick,” Roethlisberger said following the Steelers’ final practice of this week.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger expressed some reservation about the no-huddle offense at the start of organized team activities. He said how much the Steelers use the attack that worked so well for them last season would depend on how quickly the new wide receivers became comfortable with it.

So far, so good on that front, said Roethlisberger, who added that the Steelers have worked more on their no-huddle offense in OTAs than they have in past years when it comes to the voluntary practices.

“I think it’s something that we’ve realized what we can be and what we did last year,” Roethlisberger said on one of the nicest days of the year in Pittsburgh. “We’ll use it more. I don’t want to call it our base offense but I think you’ll see more of it so I think it was important for us to get in it early and often.”

Roethlisberger, running the no-huddle offense at the end of practice, led the Steelers on a scoring drive that he capped with a short touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. It was a good way for the first-team offense to end practice, especially since Will Allen had stopped an earlier drive when the veteran safety intercepted a Roethlisberger pass along the left sideline.

“I thought it was a good play and Will came and picked it off,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re not going to score on every series that we go no-huddle.”

Also of note from Thursday’s OTA session:
  • Roethlisberger didn’t bite when asked about the six-year, $110 million contact that quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed with the San Francisco 49ers. “Congratulations to him and his family and the 49ers franchise,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re on opposite sides of the coast. I’m over here just worried about being a Steeler and that’s all that matters with me. It’s just about getting better out here with these guys.” Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract – the same number he had left on his rookie deal when he signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008. The Steelers are expected to sign their franchise quarterback to a new deal at some point though nothing is imminent.
  • Center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Markus Wheaton were among the players who didn’t practice on Thursday. Fullback Will Johnson was out of the walking boot he wore Wednesday but he watched practice on Thursday, as did tight end Michael Palmer. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who is nursing a calf injury, spent part of the practice riding a stationary bike.
PITTSBURGH -- This is the last in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our ninth look is at the position where the Steelers made their most significant free-agent acquisition.

Safety

Mitchell
Who is new: Mike Mitchell. The Steelers signed the fifth-year veteran to a five-year, $25 million contract, moving quickly after the start of free agency to add speed and youth to the back end of their defense.

Who is gone: Ryan Clark. The Steelers went in another direction at free safety after eight seasons of Clark starting there. He signed a one-year contract with the Redskins, the team Clark had been with before joining the Steelers in 2006.

Returning starter: Troy Polamalu. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who agreed to a new three-year contact in March, remains the face of the Steelers’ defense. Polamalu played every game last season, and he held up remarkably well despite playing significant snaps at inside linebacker on passing downs. The addition of Ryan Shazier will allow Polamalu to play exclusively at safety though he will continue to line up all over the field in Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Most significant addition: Mitchell. Everything came together for Mitchell last season in Carolina where he intercepted four passes and registered 3 ˝ sacks while recording 66 tackles. The 6-foot, 210-pounder gives the Steelers a speedy playmaker, something they desperately needed in the secondary, and he only turns 27 next month.

Most significant loss: Clark. A heady player and fearless hitter, Clark made 102 tackles last season, second most on the Steelers, and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. As well as Clark played in Pittsburgh, the Steelers needed more speed at free safety.

On outside looking in: Robert Golden. The second-year man didn’t play a defensive snap after the fourth game of 2013, and he will again have to make the 53-man roster based on his work on special teams. The Steelers appear set at safety with Polamalu, Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and Will Allen. But a couple of players always seem to make the team as special-teamers, something Golden did last year.

Hidden number: Polamalu and Clark started 86 regular-season games together at safety, and that experience as well as their close friendship allowed them to play well off one another.

Outlook: The Steelers shored up safety with the signing of Mitchell and the re-signing of Allen, who reinvigorated his career after returning to Pittsburgh last October following an abbreviated stint in Dallas. Thomas is expected to make a big jump in his second season after playing significant games as a rookie before sustaining a high-ankle injury. Polamalu can be vulnerable in coverage because of his propensity to gamble, but he is still playing at a high level. The big key with Polamalu is how quickly he develops the kind of chemistry with Mitchell that will allow him to freelance on defense.

Draft position needs: Safety

April, 29, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the second in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in less than weeks. Keep in mind that the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Next up is safety:

Added: Mike Mitchell

Lost: Ryan Clark

Skinny: The signing of Mitchell probably takes the position out of first-round consideration. The Steelers also re-signed veteran Will Allen and are expecting Shamarko Thomas to make a big jump in his second season so they don’t have an immediate need here. They should add another young player to develop as Allen is only signed through next season while Troy Polamalu's future isn't certain beyond 2014. Whether the Steelers draft a safety or sign a couple of undrafted free agents remains to be seen. The position is not one of the deeper ones in the draft so their options may be limited in later rounds if they don’t take a safety early. The Steelers hosted Calvin Pryor of Louisville, a projected first-round pick, and Brock Vereen of Minnesota for pre-draft visits.

Draft likelihood: Medium

Extra points

Last S drafted by the Steelers: Thomas, fourth round in 2013

Last S drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Polamalu, 2003

Last S taken 15th overall in the draft: Kenny Vaccaro, Saints, 2013

Safeties drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Two

Safeties drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: One
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steeler's mail call. If you have a question please it send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go ...

 

Steelers re-sign Michael Palmer

March, 21, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers added depth at tight end Friday when they re-signed Michael Palmer to a one-year contract.

Palmer, whom the Steelers signehttp://proxy.espn.go.com/blogadmin/pittsburgh-steelers/wp-admin/edit.php?page=statusPaged last August, played in every game last season and caught one pass for eight yards. He was a core special teams player in 2013, and the fourth-year veteran joins Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and David Paulson as the tight ends on the roster.

The Steelers lost tight end David Johnson last week when the fifth-year veteran signed a two-year contract with the Chargers.

Palmer is the fifth of the Steelers' free agents to re-sign with the team, joining center Cody Wallace, offensive tackle Guy Whimper, safety Will Allen and long snapper Greg Warren in that group.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered their secondary by signing safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract, and they did so while putting minimal stress on their salary cap.

Mitchell
Mitchell’s cap hit in 2014 will be just $2.2 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the guaranteed money in his contract is just $5.25 million, with $4.75 million from his signing bonus plus a $500,000 roster bonus due in April.

I included the impending roster bonus as guaranteed money because it would make no sense for the Steelers to release Mitchell, a five-year veteran, less than a month after signing him.

Here is a breakdown of his contract:

2014: $950,000 signing bonus, $750,000 base salary and $500,000 roster bonus. Cap hit: $2.2 million.

2015: $2 million base salary, $2 million roster bonus and $950,000 signing bonus: Cap hit: $4.95 million.

2016: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

2017: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

2018: $5 million base salary and $950,000 signing bonus. Cap hit: $5.95 million.

Mitchell’s relatively small cap hit of $2.2 million for 2014 gives the Steelers some flexibility, as they were about $7 million under the cap before signing Mitchell.

They have since re-signed safety Will Allen, center Cody Wallace and long-snapper Greg Warren.

Allen and Warren signed one-year deals, and their combined cap hit is about $1.2 million if the Steelers used the exemptions that allow teams to re-sign veterans to one-year contracts but count only part of their salaries against the cap.

ESPN Stats & Information projects Allen to have a cap hit of $570,000, and Warren should be around that number, too, if the Steelers took advantage of the veterans exemption with each player.

Depending on what Wallace signed for, the Steelers don’t have a ton of room under the cap, but they should have enough to keep re-signing their own free agents and to entertain signing free agents from other teams.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers announced the re-signings of safety Will Allen and long snapper Greg Warren on Wednesday morning with each agreeing to one-year contracts.

Neither is the kind of move that elicits much more than a collective yawn from the Steelers’ fan base, but the signings are significant.

Allen provides depth in the secondary as well as competition for second-year man Shamarko Thomas for the position of safety in the Steelers’ sub-packages.

Allen thrived as the safety in the quarter package after re-signing with the Steelers last October. In the process the 10th-year vereran showed that he can still play after getting released by the Cowboys.

The key with Allen is that he is also a core special-teams player so even if Thomas wins the competition for safety in the Steelers’ sub-packages Allen can still contribute.

Warren will return for a 10th season and the best thing you can say about him is that you never hear his name. Nothing could be better for a long snapper whose anonymity is crucial to his job security.

The Steelers signed long snapper Bryce Davis to compete with Warren. But the latter has become so used to fending off challenges for his position that there is no reason to think he won’t be snapping for the Steelers in 2014.

Warren is one of just five players on the roster who were part of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams in 2005 and 2008.

The others are quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and tight end Heath Miller.

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