Big Blue Monkey: In my initial email [to Aaron], I may have suggested that Hines Ward was no longer with the Steelers. I knew that to be a fact. Except that it clearly isn't. He's still a Steeler, and given the contract he was given, he will retire one. Last year, he had his best year in the past half decade or so--over 80 catches, over 1000 yards, close to 13 yards per reception, and 7 Touchdowns. Is Hines still the man of the receiving corps, even at age 33? (Staggering fact: I'm older than Hines Ward, despite the fact I've watched him play all my life. How does that happen?) Or is Santonio Holmes going to ride his incredible Super Bowl into the 2009-2010 season, and take the reins?
Aaron: Hines will always be The Man, as long as he’s still out there breaking linebackers’ jaws by blocking the shit out of them. Eventually though Holmes does need to step up and become the number one receiver. He just hasn’t done it yet. Yes, he made that amazing catch in the Super Bowl and big plays in both playoff games, but for long stretches in the regular season, he was really not much of a factor. He’s got all the ability in the world. I think he just needs to mature a bit more. Stuff like his LeBron James celebration in the Super Bowl (which should have been a penalty) shows he’s still a bit too immature to be The Man for the Steelers.
BBM: Well, obviously, the Tomlin-led Steelers have a great defense, per Steelers expectations, and last year's Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison turned in one of the most iconic plays in Super Bowl history. Do you foresee yet another breakout player coming from that side of the ball?
Aaron: The Steelers lost two starters on defense, but should actually still be better than they were a year ago, because the two new starters both played extensively last year and look to have big upsides. Especially keep your eye on new inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. He looks to be the kind of pass-rushing beast the Steelers haven’t had inside since Kendrell Bell’s first few healthy seasons. And on the outside opposite Harrison, Lamarr Woodley should only get better. Last year was his first as a starter, and he had 11.5 sacks and then added another 6 in the playoffs [Editor's Note: Aaron completely predicted Woodley's success last year]. Assuming the ageless-one James Farrior can keep it going, this should be one of the best groups of Steelers linebackers ever. And that’s saying something.
BBM: On paper, The Steelers are clearly the class of the AFC North. Who will be the stiffest competition within the division? If you say Cleveland, please explain in detail.
Aaron: Yeah, Cleveland, right. Mangini. Nice hire. Good luck with that. The North will come down to the Steelers and the Ravens again. All three games they played last year were brutal nailbiters, and you wouldn’t expect this year to be any different.
at this point, I turned the questions over to fellow IDYFT'ers:
Miwacar: How does Troy Polamalu rate for you in the long, illustrious line of great Steeler defenders?
Aaron: I think if Troy keeps playing the way he has been, then no doubt he’s a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game. People always talk about Ed Reed as the best in the game today, but I don’t see any other safety who does as much for their team as Polamalu. The dude is just all over the field.
Miwacar: Who are your favorite defensive players and why?
Aaron: Easy. Jack Lambert and Greg Lloyd. Two of the toughest, nastiest linebackers to ever play the game. If aliens ever invade or zombies ever take over the earth, those are the first two guys I'm calling to recruit to fight for my side.
James Harrison is close behind. He's gotta be the scariest defender in the league today. Just ask that Cleveland fan he decked on the field a few years ago. Imagine how much of a terror he'd be if he wasn't getting held almost every down.
Andrew Wice: Congratulations on a sixth Superbowl for your Steelers. I was born in Pittsburgh in 1974 (they won that season) and have always been a fan, though I'm a Redskins fan to the marrow. I do dig the way the Steelers win their Superbowls: hard running, great WRs, a winner at QB and the motherfuckingestdefense around.
Question: Are the Steelers RBs, talented though they are, too fragile? They ranked 23rd in rushing in 2008.