The Steelers pulled a surprise when they signed LB James Farrior to a new five-year contract worth $18.25 million and a $5 million signing bonus. Farrior, 33, had one year left on his old deal.
Safety Troy Polamalu came off the PUP list. P Daniel Sepulveda was placed on IR with a torn ACL that occurred the first week of camp.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Mewelde Moore -- He gets lost in a backfield that includes Willie Parker and rookie Rashard Mendenhall, but Moore will play on third downs and can have an impact there. Signed as a free agent from the Vikings, Moore can block, run and catch, a triple-threat the Steelers have not had in their more recent third-down backs. He also will get a shot at returning punts and kickoffs - he has a 10.4-yard career punt return average.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 1/23, RB Rashard Mendenhall -- He'll get every opportunity to work in with Willie Parker and have a good number of carries and also possibly return kickoffs.
Rd. 2/53, WR Limas Sweed -- Has been inconsistent in the preseason and won't be No. 3, as some coaches had predicted when they drafted him. Behind split end Santonio Holmes on the depth chart.
Rd. 3/88, LB Bruce Davis -- The Steelers hope to groom him to become their next good outside linebacker after he had 24.5 sacks at end for the Bruins the past two seasons.
Rd. 4/130, OT Tony Hills -- He only makes it if they keep 10 offensive linemen. A disappointment, but they'd like not to have to cut a fourth-rounder again, especially since he might not clear waivers to go on the practice squad.
Rd. 5/156, QB Dennis Dixon -- He had a good preseason and the Steelers are delighted with their pick. He could rise to No. 2 as early as this season and might be used on occasion in certain situations.
Rd. 6/194, S Ryan Mundy -- He was making good progress before a high ankle sprain in the second week of camp. It's touch and go whether he makes it or opens on the practice squad.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
QUARTERBACK: Starter - Ben Roethlisberger. Backups - Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon.
Roethlisberger had an outstanding 2007 and played well this summer. His 104.1 passer rating was second in the NFL last season and both that and his 32 touchdown passes set Steelers records. Roethlisberger was sacked 93 times the past two seasons, an area of concern. Batch broke his right collarbone in the first preseason game and is trying to come back; they signed Leftwich and must make a decision between them. Dixon has shown plenty enough to make the team and possibly rise to No. 2.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Willie Parker, FB Carey Davis. Backups -- RB Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell.
Parker, who broke his fibula in the 15th game of last season, is healthy. The addition of Mendenhall will make this position interesting all season. Coordinator Bruce Arians has talked about at times using a pony backfield with both of them. It's more likely they'll share time, and Mendenhall must show how much he deserves as a rookie. Signing Moore as a UFA gives them a strong, well-rounded third-down back who can block, run and catch. They've gone away from the fullback position - Carey Davis is nothing like the pure blocking talent of long-time fullback Dan Kreider.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Heath Miller. Backup - Matt Spaeth.
Miller, at 6-5, is one of the Steelers' more reliable and effective receivers. He was third with 47 receptions to go with seven TDs in 2007 and has prompted the Steelers to look more to their tight end as a receiver the past few years. At 6-7, Matt Spaeth is an imposing target. He caught three touchdowns in his first four receptions as a rookie by Oct. 21, then disappeared in the passing game. The Steelers normally keep three tight ends.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Hines Ward, SE Santonio Holmes. Backups - Nate Washington, Limas Sweed, Willie Reid.
Ward and Holmes are the perfect combination. Ward, entering his 11th season, knows how to get open and has become their possession receiver. Holmes is their home-run threat and led the NFL with an 18.1-yard per catch last season. Washington's only fault is he drops too many passes, although he improved on that in the last three quarters of last season. He's also a deep threat. The three of them combined for 20 TD catches last season. Sweed, their second-round pick who is 6-4, is the tall receiver Roethlisberger begged for in the offseason, yet he failed to make much of an impression in the summer and will settle in at No. 4. Reid made his statement in preseason game No. 3.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Marvel Smith, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig, RG Kendall Simmons, RT Willie Colon. Backups -- T Max Starks, T/G Trai Essex, G/C Sean Mahan, G/C Darnell Stapleton, T Tony Hills.
Two new starters crack the lineup at a position that needs to improve over its spotty play from 2007. Kemoeatu, who has started two games in three seasons, takes over for departed Alan Faneca and has looked good doing so this summer. Hartwig, signed after Carolina released him, replaces Mahan at center because he's bigger and can take on some of the big nose tackles in the league. Smith had a disk in his lower back removed from a nerve last December and should be pain free. Colon enters his second season as the starter. They have good, well-rounded, experienced depth.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Aaron Smith, RE Brett Keisel, NT Casey Hampton. Backups - E Travis Kirschke, NT Chris Hoke, E Nick Eason, E Orpheus Roye.
An aging group of starters and backups got no help in the draft, and signed Orpheus Roye, 35, in the middle of training camp because of concern with their depth. Pro Bowler Hampton missed two weeks of camp because he showed up 40 pounds overweight. He's still among the best in the business, as is Smith at left end. Keisel is athletic and puts pressure on the quarterback, but he has to start bringing him down as well. They hoped to find backups to relieve the starters on occasion. Hoke can do that for Hampton and Kirschke is OK as long as he does not have to play long.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB LaMarr Woodley, ROLB James Harrison, ILB Larry Foote, ILB James Farrior. Backups - ILB Lawrence Timmons, OLB Bruce Davis, OLB Keyaron Fox.
The additions of Woodley and Timmons infused a good group with youth and speed. Woodley takes over for Clark Haggans. He had four sacks in just 80 snaps as a rookie. Timmons will play in the nickel and may soon overtake Foote as well to start. He has been a monster in the preseason, making big plays and exploding into people. Harrison was the team's MVP last season, his first replacing Joey Porter; he also made the Pro Bowl and led them with 8.5 sacks. Farrior, at 33, still plays a strong game and was rewarded with a contract extension. Davis will get a chance to rush the passer on occasion.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Ike Taylor, LCB Deshea Townsend, SS Troy Polamalu, FS Ryan Clark. Backups - CB Bryant McFadden, S Anthony Smith, CB/S William Gay, CB Anthony Madison, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Mundy, CB/S Roy Lewis.
That's 11 and they won't keep that many. Carter, a veteran, could get cut. Taylor and Townsend switched sides this summer because Townsend has a better feel for the multiple routes which usually come from that side. Polamalu missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury, but should be at full speed for the Sept. 7 opener. Their defense suffered as he played through injuries last season. Clark returns after missing half of last season after his spleen was removed. He's a steadying hand back there. Gay and Lewis can play two positions and that may put them on the team. It may come down to Mundy or Carter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jeff Reed, P Paul Ernster/Mitch Berger, LS Greg Warren, KOR Mewelde Moore/Rashard Mendenhall, PR Santonio Holmes/Moore.
The Steelers were terrible on special teams except for Reed and their rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda last season, and now they've lost Sepulveda to a torn ACL. Ernster had a great game No. 3 and can kick off. Berger has more experience doing it in the NFL. Their return game has to get better this season than it was in 2007. Reed missed only two of 25 field-goal attempts last season, one from 65 yards in Denver, and the other a 44-yarder in the mud in Heinz Field.