Many questions to be answered as Steelers prepare for camp
Get ready for Camp Uncertainty.
The Steelers' training camps in Latrobe often are the tidiest of three weeks, with few positions to be won or lost and a modicum of suspense. Rookies make the team but rarely are expected to make an immediate impact, and the only question is whether a January playoff run will extend into February.
Goodbye to those good old days. The Steelers will report Friday at St. Vincent College for what seems likely to be the most unpredictable camp of coach Mike Tomlin's seven seasons.
Welcome to the new Steelers — in every sense — as arguably their most-awaited rookie class since 1974 reports to a team that has been called old for five years but one that is readying for a long-awaited infusion of youth.
General manager Kevin Colbert promised changes after what was a promising 2012 became unhinged following Ben Roethlisberger's midseason injury, leading to four losses in five games and no football past the holidays.
The changes start arriving this week for a team that must replace a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker (James Harrison), a fastest-in-the-league receiver (Mike Wallace), a 12-year veteran lineman (Casey Hampton), two starting offensive linemen (Max Starks and Willie Colon) and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher (Rashard Mendenhall).
“The thing about the Steelers is you always have confidence they'll figure it out,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “That's the difference between them and other franchises. But this is the first time in a while they have to figure it out (themselves).”
The last time the Steelers were this unsettled going into camp arguably was 2004, when quarterback Tommy Maddox was staring over his shoulder at a 6-10 season and a fresh-faced Ben Roethlisberger looking to dislodge him.
Things changed in a hurry. The Steelers went 15-1 and reached the AFC Championship Game. But nobody is predicting a 15-1 season for these Steelers, who seem to have as many worries as there are positions on the field — including the fact they play alongside Super Bowl winner Baltimore in what might be the NFL's toughest division, the AFC North.
To paraphrase former coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers have many questions, and they are great.
Can outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, one of college football's most disruptive defensive players a year ago, and running back Le'Veon Bell start as rookies? Will big-hitting Shamarko Thomas make an impact — in every sense — at safety, where Troy Polamalu is 32 and Ryan Clark is 34? He's already said he expects to be fined for his hitting.
Are Mike Adams and David DeCastro ready to be full-time offensive line starters? Can rookie wide receiver Marcus Wheaton quickly become a presence on an offense that must replace the offseason's highest-priced free agent in Wallace?
Even a sixth-round pick, linebacker Vince Williams, could play considerably as a rookie.
“In order for us to be successful, we have to have the young guys step in and play great football,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.
But the questions aren't just about the rookies.
What alterations will offensive coordinator Todd Haley make after an admittedly up-and-down 2012 season in which the running game was the Steelers' second-worst during any 16-game season? And will new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, special teams coach Danny Smith and wide receivers coach Richard Mann merely tinker or implement overhauls?
And is there enough leadership in what Ward said was a locker room in “total disarray” a year ago? And when will tight end Heath Miller (knee) be ready?
It's all a puzzle that Tomlin and his staff are ready to begin assembling, and they can't begin to guess what the finished product will look like or when it will be completed.
There are 49 days until the Sept. 8 opener against the Titans, and every one could bring yet another question.
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’ Wheaton adjusting his game moving to slot receiver
- Steelers RB Archer trying to catch up after tough rookie season
- Inside the Steelers: Ventrone suffers right ankle injury
- Steelers LB Timmons has grown into leadership role on defense
- Steelers notebook: Rookie CB Golson still dealing with left shoulder pain
- Rossi: St. Vincent a football sanctuary during Steelers training camp
- Steelers tackle Beachum braces for competition along offensive line
- Steelers notebook: Backup QB Gradkowski remains out with shoulder issue
- Steelers’ Brown arrives in style, vows to be ‘the best in the world’