pictured: Brett Keisel
Bill Cowher, one of the most blatantly pro-black coaches in NFL history, has moved on after 15 mostly successful years in a blatantly pro-black league. The NFL's requirement that all teams must interview blacks for head coaching jobs was named after Steelers owner Dan Rooney. For his part, Rooney lived up to his pro-affirmative action zealotry by hiring 35-year-old Mike Tomlin to replace Cowher.
The Steelers roster is a little blacker than last year's. However, all of the team's tight ends are white and, rather amazingly, four of the six defensive linemen are as well.
However all but two of the offensive linemen are black (not counting C Greg Warren who is used only as the long snapper). With starting left guard Alan Faneca set to leave the team after this season as a free agent, Pittsburgh looks to be overwhelmingly black on the line by next season.
Faneca is one of the all time best, a perennial starting Pro Bowler in an era when blacks whose reputation far exceeds their production dominate the voting for All Pro. Sean Mahan, signed in the offseason as a free agent, has a tenuous hold on the starting job at center, replacing the retired Jeff Hartings, like Faneca another tremendous lineman. All the other o-linemen are black and it wouldn't be surprising if Mahan is demoted at some point as the scapegoat for a line that looks very shaky entering the new season.
QB Ben Roethlisberger is trying to bounce back from a 2006 season in which he nearly died in a motorcycle crash, had an emergency appendectomy, and suffered a concussion. Still, Big Ben hung in there as best he could and never made excuses. He already has a Super Bowl ring and is a great combination of size, arm strength, and mobility. The Steelers offense is reputedly going to be much more wide open this year, including use of the no-huddle and frequent options at the line. If the offensive line holds up, Roethlisberger could have a big year.
A Pittsburgh tradition is to rarely throw to the tight end. That's supposed to change this season. The Steelers have some very talented ones, led by third year man Heath Miller, a former first round draft pick. He's backed up by Jerame Tuman and rookie Matt Spaeth, 2006 winner of the John Mackey Award as college football's best tight end.
FB-TB John Kuhn, who actually had a couple of carries at the end of a blowout last season, was waived on September 1. Long-time starting FB Dan Kreider was demoted to backup on the eve of the first game of the '07 regular season. The blocking FB is being phased out of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' new scheme anyway.
Brian St. Pierre is the rarely used third string quarterback.
The highlight on defense is the bookend starting ends, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Smith has never been a big sacker on Pittsburgh's three-man line (which is designed to give most of the sacks to the LBs); rather he is a superb run stuffer and also gets lots of pressure on the quarterback. Smith has made one Pro Bowl but should have been named to others.
Keisel, a 7th round draft pick out of BYU, started last year for the first time and has lots of quickness and athleticism. This season he reportedly is going to not only play at end but also as a roving linebacker in order to confuse offenses. Watch for a number of big plays from Keisel "The Diesel" in '07 (fantasy football IDP sleeper alert).
Chris Hoke, another BYU guy, is the backup nose tackle. He has excelled in limited playing time and is capable of starting for many teams. End Travis Kirschke is in his 11th season and still plays effectively.
Clint Kriewaldt is used exclusively as a White Special Teams Demon even though he is all over the field when given time at LB.
NUMBER OF WHITE STARTERS: 6
APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF WHITE PLAYERS ON 53 MAN ROSTER: 15