By Mike Batista
The Steelers begin the 2011 season in about 120 hours. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in his press conference Tuesday that he expects the Ravens to be "quite salty." Damn. I've been trying to limit my sodium intake.
Tomlin also got some laughs when he said he thinks James Harrison, who is recovering from two back surgeries, has been "sandbagging" it. Charlie Babbitt made a joke. That's about as colorful as it gets during a Tomlin presser.
I'm working on my definitive prediction column for the season, then realized it was going to be too goddamn long, so I'm taking a piece of it and making a column out of that.
Think of this column as licking the mixer when Ma makes a cake. In this case, the cake is my prediction for the Steelers' 2011 season, which I'll have later in the week.
For now, let's take a quick look at the Steelers in the three main departments.
OFFENSE: Rashard Mendenhall is going to need a kick-ass, breakout season to make his infamous Twitter comments a distant memory. I think that's just what he'll do. I predict at least 1,500 rushing yards from Mendenhall this season. As far as their receivers go, I can't help but get giddy about the depth there. The Steelers shouldn't have any trouble scoring points this season.
DEFENSE: I hate dealing with the number 13 because I'm superstitious. But I have a feeling that's how many games we'll get out of Troy Polamalu this season. He actually only missed two games last season. It just seemed like more because he was still hampered during the postseason. Since Polamalu injuries pretty much come with the territory now, I'll take three games with Polamalu in street clothes if the Steelers can somehow win two of those games and if Polamalu's in peak condition for the playoffs.
Speaking of injury-prone players, I think Aaron Smith's best days are behind him. He's 35. Fortunately, the Steelers seem to have drafted well on the defensive line recently. Cameron Heyward looked good in camp and might have to contribute as a rookie. This defense is getting old, and will need some of that new blood to start pumping pretty soon. Perhaps Jason Worilds might be pressed into duty if James Harrison really isn't sandbagging it. Can Keenan Lewis bury his boneheaded past and emerge as a factor in the secondary?
Don't be surprised if the Steelers have to use all that offensive firepower and win the occasional 42-38 game this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Triskaidekaphobia aside, it is Daniel Sepulveda, not No. 13 Jeremy Kapinos, who is bad luck for the Steelers. Nonetheless, Sepulveda won the punting job and Kapinos was waived. Sepulveda has had two of his four seasons cut short by injury. The Steelers have gone to the Super Bowl in both of those seasons, and they haven't gone to the Super Bowl in either of his full seasons. Hmm.