Coach Tomlin, Steelers facing plenty of questions as OTAs start
Mike Tomlin said the Steelers plan to prove all of their doubters wrong starting in September in NFL stadiums.
If they're actually going to do that, a lot of the groundwork for a different kind of surprise season — this time a pleasant one — will be put in place during May and June at a closed-to-the-public practice field on the South Side.
The Steelers begin the first day of 13 offseason practice days — 10 OTAs and three minicamp sessions — Tuesday, and Tomlin will begin working through an extended check list of concerns, worries and question marks.
Among them: LaMarr Woodley's weight. Troy Polamalu's overall health. Ben Roethlisberger's receivers. Dick LeBeau's always-aging defense. The relatively young offensive line. The who's-on-first situation at running back. The who's-going-to-replace James Harrison scenario at outside linebacker.
And there's this: For the first time since Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, the Steelers aren't considered to be one of the AFC's elite teams or an AFC North frontrunner.
They finished third behind Super Bowl champion Baltimore and AFC playoff team Cincinnati while going 8-8 in 2012, and a departure-filled offseason in which Harrison, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Willie Colon and Rashard Mendenhall left didn't seem to strengthen them.
“When you look at their roster as a whole, you can make the case they're the third-best roster in the division, which is very rare to say,” former Ravens and Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah said. “I still think they have ground to make up. I did like what they did in the draft, but when you look at the aging of some players and the departures in free agency, I don't know if a really good draft offset that.”
That draft yielded an unusually high number of rookies who likely will find themselves being counted upon from the start, including first-rounder Jarvis Jones, who will compete with Jason Worilds to replace Harrison, and second-rounder Le'Veon Bell. He will take on holdovers Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to start at running back, a position of weakness throughout 2012.
“What I like is they drafted some Steelers-like players,” said Jeremiah, now an NFL Network analyst. “I thought they got away from that with some of the guys they drafted. But, to me, they loaded up this year on those kind of guys that made them what they were.”
Among them: Shamarko Thomas, a fourth-round safety from Syracuse who could find himself as the backup to Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
One draft pick — wide receiver Markus Wheaton, a third-rounder — can't take part in the spring work because Oregon State's classes don't end until mid-June. But while Wheaton's teammates won't see him full time until training camp, NFL Network analyst Charles Davis thinks he could be the steal of the Steelers' draft class.
“I love him and his speed. This guy can run better than people know,” Davis said. “Can he run like Mike Wallace? Wallace is a special case, but this kid can run pretty darned well.”
Among the issues that will begin to get settled during spring practices that run through a June 11-13 minicamp are whether Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert succeeds Max Starks at left tackle, the running back starter and how quickly Emmanuel Sanders will settle in as Wallace's replacement.
The Steelers also will begin breaking in three new starters on defense: at outside linebacker (Jones or Worilds), cornerback (Cortez Allen) and nose tackle (Steve McLendon).
Tomlin also has three new assistant coaches in special teams coach Danny Smith, offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and receivers coach Richard Mann.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers trim roster to 75
- Steelers WR Bryant’s suspension upheld
- Steelers trade 6th-round pick for Jaguars kicker Scobee
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin mum on Bryant suspension
- Big plays cost Steelers defense in preseason loss at Bills
- Rossi: Beleaguered Steelers need MVP from Big Ben
- Healthy, confident Steelers LB Shazier ready for full speed ahead
- QB Vick hits ground running in debut
- Steelers rookie receiver Coates learning on the fly