The Other 31: Steelers retool after parting with Harrison, Wallace, Mendenhall

July 1, 2013

Coach Mike Tomlin, right, looks on as Jarvis Jones goes through a drill. The hope is that the first-round pick becomes the next great Pittsburgh linebacker.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Background: Schedule | Depth chart | Draft | Team page | Previous teams

Last season’s record: 8-8

Key players released: LB James Harrison, G Willie Colon

Key free agents lost: WR Mike Wallace, RB Rashard Mendenhall, CB Keenan Lewis, S Ryan Mundy, S Will Allen, T Max Starks, C Doug Legursky

Key free agents re-signed: WR Plaxico Burress, LB Larry Foote, LB Stevenson Sylvester, WR Emmanuel Sanders (matched offer sheet in restricted free agency), G Ramon Foster, TE David Johnson, LS Greg Warren

Key free agents added: CB William Gay, QB Bruce Gradkowski, TE Matt Spaeth, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, P Brian Moorman, T Guy Whimper

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 17 overall)… Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia

2 (48)… Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

3 (79)… Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State

4 (111)… Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse

4 (115)… Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

5 (150)… Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois

6 (186)… Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma

6 (206)… Vince Williams, LB, Florida State

7 (223)… Nick Williams, DT, Samford

Analysis:  It was an offseason of significant change in Pittsburgh after an 8-8 season.

The team and linebacker James Harrison were unable to agree to a reworked contract to keep the former NFL defensive player of the year in Pittsburgh. Harrison ended up being released and wound up signing with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace left for a big-money contract with the Miami Dolphins. Running back Rashard Mendenhall also exited in free agency, signing with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Steelers did a good job of restocking at positions of need in the NFL draft, getting linebacker Jarvis Jones in the opening round, running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round and wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round. Bell, in particular, could be asked to play a key role as a rookie.

Much, as always, will depend on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to do the heavy lifting for the offense. He had offseason surgery on his right knee but is expected to be ready for training camp.

The Steelers had ground to make up in the AFC North, having finished two games behind both the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens last season.  It’s unclear whether the Steelers did enough to close that gap, and the ability of the key rookies to be immediate contributors could go a long way toward determining whether the Steelers are back in the thick of the AFC playoff chase. But it’s never wise to dismiss them, as long as Roethlisberger can remain healthy and in the lineup.

Why Redskins fans should care:  The two teams play a preseason game Aug. 19 at FedEx Field, the preseason home opener for the Redskins.

Conversation starter: Will the Steelers make it back into the playoffs?

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

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At NFL rookie symposium, Aaron Hernandez becomes cautionary tale

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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Keith McMillan · June 28, 2013

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