The Steelers are set on offense with one of the most talented young units in the league, but the defense is in flux following the split with venerated coordinator Dick LeBeau. New defensive boss Keith Butler will be charged with revamping a leaky secondary, shoring up a run defense that has atrophied the past two years and coaxing breakout seasons from young linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier.
Mike Tomlin's squad won eight of their final 10 regular-season games once Martavis Bryant added much-needed size and playmaking ability to Ben Roethlisberger's aerial attack. As long as the move from LeBeau to Butler doesn't backfire, the Steelers should be one of the Patriots' top challengers in the AFC.
Biggest free agents
»*LB James Harrison:* Harrison went from watching games on his couch in September to most feared defensive player on the team by December. Although he turns 37 this offseason, his 2014 game tape suggests Harrison can still play at a high level. The Steelers should bring him back as a hedge against Jarvis Jones' development.
On the way out?
What they need
Outside of a young tight end to eventually succeed Heath Miller, the offseason resources will be devoted to adjustments on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers' top need is a physical young cornerback to handle opposing No. 1 receivers. If Worilds departs for greener pastures, pass rusher will be high on the wish list as well. Safeties Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas have been disappointments to date. It will require a leap of faith to put the secondary in their hands should Polamalu hang up his cleats.
Offseason crystal ball
General manager Kevin Colbert tends to use free agency to fill obvious holes, allowing for a best-available approach to the draft. He might not have that luxury this year. The Worilds situation could go either way. We tentatively expect him to return if only because the AFC North champions lack any semblance of stability at outside linebacker without his presence. It should be easier for the Steelers to find common ground with Harrison, whose preference last summer was to play in Pittsburgh. In that scenario, Colbert could then address the secondary early in the draft.
There's enough talent on this roster for the Steelers to defend their divisional crown, but only if the recent first-round draft picks come through with breakout seasons.