FACTS AND STATS
2015 Finish: Second in AFC North.
Record: 6-10: Playoff (Wild Card, 1-1).
DIVISIONAL RECORD: 3-3
TOTAL OFFENSE: 395.4 (3rd)
RUSHING: 107.9: (16th)
PASSING: 287.7: (3rd)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 361.1 (21st)
RUSHING: 91.2: (5th)
PASSING: 271.9: (30th)
COACH: Mike Tomlin
10th season as Steelers/NFL head coach
98-57 overall; 6-5 postseason
--Tomlin performed one of his better coaching jobs through all the injuries in 2015. He fostered a "next man up" mentality that his players and the entire organization embrace and it carried them through difficult times, particularly when all the injuries hit their offense last season. So imagine what he can do with a healthy team.
2016 UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS
By TSX reporter covering team:
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Le'Veon Bell, Roosevelt Nix. Backups --DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Daryl Richardson
James, who is in his second season after being selected in the fifth round last spring, is the starter because Ladarius Green is on the PUP list. Green signed a four-year, $20 million contract in March, but has yet to practice with the Steelers due to ankle and head injuries. Johnson is a former Steeler who is back after spending last season with San Diego. He won't add much in the passing game, but he can block. Grimble has potential as a receiver, but he was plagued by drops throughout camp and preseason games. He will have to impress if he wants to stick on the roster if, and when, Green returns from his stint on the PUP list.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups -- T Ryan Harris, C/G Cody Wallace, G/T Chris Hubbard, C/G B.J. Finney
This group is anchored by Pouncey, the two-time All-Pro who is coming back from a leg injury that forced him to miss last season. DeCastro has been one of the best guards in the league for the last few years and was finally rewarded with an All-Pro designation last season. Gilbert is coming off his best season and many believe he should have made the Pro Bowl after last season. Foster was re-signed after having his best season, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. Villanueva has potential at left tackle, but he remains raw, which could pose some problems because he protects Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. Wallace is a solid interior backup who started all 16 games at center last season when Pouncey was injured. Harris is the swing tackle and will be ready to step in at left tackle should Villanueva falter. He was the starting left tackle for the Super Bowl champion Broncos last season. Hubbard is the most versatile of the backs. He can play all four positions on the line, including tight end. Finney is viewed as the replacement for Cody Wallace as the top interior backup. Wallace is entering the final season of his contract and will turn 32 in November.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Cam Heyward, DE Stephon Tuitt, NT Daniel McCullers. Backups -- NT Javon Hargrave, DE Ricardo Mathews, DE L.T. Walton
Heyward and Tuitt might be the best pair of 3-4 ends in the NFL. They finished last season 1-2 on the team in sacks, with Heyward tallying 71/2 and Tuitt 61/2. They also are extremely good against the run. McCullers will start in the base defense as the traditional run-stopping nose, but he won't play very much. Last season the Steelers were in their base defense on 25 percent of the snaps. Hargrave will challenge McCullers for snaps in the base, and he will have a big role as an inside pass rusher when the Steelers play their nickel and dime packages. The Steelers coaches were concerned about playing Heyward and Tuitt too many snaps last season, and Hargrave can pick up the slack when they need rest. Mathews was a free agent who played last season in San Diego. The coaches are hoping he is an upgrade from Cam Thomas, who had two disappointing seasons as the top backup. Walton was drafted as a project in the sixth round of the 2015 draft and he could work his way into the rotation more this season.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- ROLB Jarvis Jones, LOLB Arthur Moats, ILB Ryan Shazier, ILB Lawrence Timmons. Backups -- ILB Vince Williams, ILB Tyler Matakevich, ILB L.J. Fort, OLB Anthony Chickillo, ILB Steven Johnson
The Steelers are strong at inside linebacker. Shazier is ready for a breakout season if he can stay healthy. His speed and versatility gives defensive coordinator Keith Butler lots of flexibility. Timmons is 30 and slowing down, but he remains strong in the run game. The Steelers likely will lift him in favor of a sixth defensive back in some passing situations. They might not be as strong at outside backer. Bud Dupree, a first-round pick in 2015, was placed on the injured reserve Sunday. He'll have surgery to repair a sports hernia this week and won't be eligible to return to the active roster until after Week 8. Moats will take his place in the starting lineup and it's not an unfamiliar spot for him. He started the first 10 games last season before Dupree took over as the starter. Jones is motivated after the Steelers did not pick up his fifth year option. He's been a major disappointment since being a first-round pick in 2013. Harrison is 38, but he remains a strong rotational player. Chickillo will be Moats' backup and should have a much bigger role than he did as a rookie, when he played mostly on special teams. Williams signed a new three-year contract in camp and is the top reserve at inside backer. Matakevich and Fort made it for their special teams abilities.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB William Gay, RCB Ross Cockrell, SS Robert Golden, FS Mike Mitchell. Backups -- S Sean Davis, S Shamarko Thomas, S Jordan Dangerfield, CB Artie Burns, CB Justin Gilbert
This is the weakest part of the defense. Gay is a solid veteran corner. He has played well since returning to the Steelers in 2013. After Gay there isn't much experience at corner. Cockrell started seven games last season and played a lot in the nickel and dime packages, but that's it. He is the starter because Burns, the first-round pick in the spring, missed most of training camp because of a quad injury. The Steelers brought in Justin Gilbert via a trade with Cleveland, but he will have to prove his problems with the Browns can be fixed before he plays a down for the Steelers. Davis, the second-round pick, is the team's slot corner. He was drafted to play safety, but he moved into the slot when Senquez Golson was injured in training camp. The safeties are solid. Mitchell played well after an injury-plagued 2014 season. Golden is entering his fifth season but his first as a starter. He played a bigger role in the defense last season when the Steelers played six defensive backs. Thomas and Dangerfield will contribute on special teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Chris Boswell, P Jordan Berry, LS Greg Warren, KOR Sammie Coates, KOR Justin Gilbert, PR Eli Rogers, PR Antonio Brown
The Steelers finally found a reliable place kicker in Boswell four games into last season after Josh Scobee failed miserably in his four-game stint. Boswell was 29 for 32 in the final 12 games. Berry had an up-and-down first season in the NFL. He proved efficient in pinning opponents deep, but he was too inconsistent and had a number of untimely short punts, most notably in the playoff game in Denver. The Steelers would like to move away from having All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown serve as their punt returner. Rogers has worked extensively at returning punts during the preseason and should start the season in that role. Wheaton, when healthy, is a good kick returner, but he's also the No. 2 receiver. Toussaint and others could see time in that role as well. Warren is old reliable at long snapper. He is entering his 12th season.
PRACTICE SQUAD: RB Brandon Brown-Dukes, RB Cam Stingily, TE Rashaun Allen, WR Cobi Hamilton, WR Demarcus Ayers, OL Matt Feiler, DL Johnny Maxey, DL Cash Lyons, DB Al-Hajj Shabazz
All times Eastern
Sept. 12, at Washington (Mon.), 7:10
Sept. 18, CINCINNATI, 1:00
Sept. 25, at Philadelphia, 4:25
Oct. 2, KANSAS CITY, 8:30
Oct. 9, N.Y. JETS, 1:00
Oct. 16, at Miami, 1:00
Oct. 23, NEW ENGLAND, 4:25
Nov. 6, at Baltimore, 1:00
Nov. 13, DALLAS, 4:25
Nov. 20, at Cleveland, 1:00
Nov. 24, at Indianapolis (Thu.), 8:30
Dec. 4, N.Y. GIANTS, 4:25
Dec. 11, at Buffalo, 1:00
Dec. 18, at Cincinnati, 8:30
Dec. 25, BALTIMORE, 4:30
Jan. 1, CLEVELAND, 1:00