Share This Page

Steelers' makeover taking shape

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 11:43 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talks to his team during minicamp Wednesday, June12, 2013, at Steelers headquarters.

There's no fear of the unknown for the Steelers.

They finished minicamp — one with only two days of practices rather than three — and headed out Thursday for their last vacation time before they reassemble July 26 in Latrobe.

They'll likely be the same team that they are now. And that raises a question: What team is this?

Is this a team in transition, as coach Mike Tomlin said, one that is merely reconfiguring itself as some key players on the three Super Bowl teams of the past eight years head into their post-football careers?

Or is this a team in trouble, one that has lost too much talent from an underachieving 8-8 team of a season ago to begin talking about a Super Bowl?

“The first thing that coach Tomlin said was, ‘Be here, and show up. If you're going to be here, let's go to work,' ” center Maurkice Pouncey said Thursday. “All of the leaders on this team, including myself, need to really show up this year and play football. Everybody is hungry this year. You can tell it's a different vibe in the locker room.”

But does a different vibe mean a better vibe and a better record?

The Steelers are replacing seven starters, or nearly one-third of their lineup: receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker James Harrison, running back Rashard Mendenhall, left guard Willie Colon, left tackle Max Starks, cornerback Keenan Lewis and nose tackle Casey Hampton. Wallace and Lewis were two of the few players who cashed in big during free agency.

In their place are draft picks, new and recent, including Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert and Cortez Allen.

It is the biggest season-to-season makeover of the seven-year Tomlin Era, but the players seem excited about the altered look of a team that customarily employs change in gradual steps.

During this decade, there have been seasons in which the Steelers switched only a single starter from one year to the next.

Here's an example: When was the last time a sixth-round draft pick who has yet to play in a preseason game was unofficially listed as a second-team linebacker, as Vince Williams is?

“Our success lies on their shoulders just as much as on us old guys,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.

Tomlin was asked Thursday if four weeks of organized team activity practices and minicamp taught him anything.

“Functionally, in-house, I've learned quite a bit,” Tomlin said. “New guys, what their buttons are, how they learn. I think any time you work with a new football player and you start the process of team building each and every year, one of the first things you have to get is an understanding of how your new people learn.”

What the Steelers are learning is that nearly everyone in the top half of their rookie class — Jones, Bell, receiver Markus Wheaton, safety Shamarko Thomas — could play a significant role this season. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis believes the Steelers will rely on their rookie class more than any other team.

“We have some unknown guys that are going to have to step up and play big roles for us,” linebacker Larry Foote said.

There's still much unknown about Jones, who will compete with Jason Worilds to replace Harrison at outside linebacker, and Bell, who will try to sprint past Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman on the running backs depth chart.“There's a lot of opportunities, probably more in this training camp, for guys to make the team than maybe I've ever been a part of,” said Keisel, who was drafted in 2002.

“There's a lot of openings, really. That's what makes training camp so special. You find the guys that are able to rise up to those occasions. It will be an exciting camp, just as exciting as any.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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.