Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Training Camp Preview
Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Training Camp Preview
More than most teams, when people talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason decisions they focus on the team's ingrained culture and how that dominates the way this organization does business. "The Steeler Way" is applied to off-field issues, character concerns, draft prospects and a whole slew of other developments away from fall Sundays.
Another major area where this comes into play is training camp. The Steelers sport intriguing young players, acquisitions and others vying for starting roles and extra reps in camp. Yet, with the Steelers you'll typically see the rookies wait in the wings and the guys who have put in their time wearing black and gold top the depth chart.
That is why it's quite likely veterans Jason Worilds and Cortez Allen will take over the right outside linebacker and No. 2 cornerback gigs by the end of training camp, respectively.
"They were solid contributors a year ago to our efforts defensively," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said recently, via ESPN. "They’ve been around this program and understand the level of expectation and what’s expected. It’s their time. They’re continually ascending, or they need to be, and we’ll give them that benefit of the doubt as we go into training camp. Obviously, things are subject to change, but what they’ve done here in Pittsburgh to this point in their careers I think merits that."
However, anything can happen by the end of August, and maybe top pick Jarvis Jones blows the doors off. Let's evaluate the state of each position at the outset of Steelers training camp.
The Steelers have now seen two consecutive seasons crippled by a Ben Roethsliberger injury. It's hard to believe their last playoff win came against Mark Sanchez in the AFC title back in January 2011 — that's what happens when Pittsburgh doesn't take care of its elite quarterback and Big Ben himself. It's also what happens when Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are your backups, so Pittsburgh made sure to add vet Bruce Gradkowski and rookie Landry Jones this offseason.
Second-round rookie Le'Veon Bell brings the most upside to a quartet including Jon Dwyer, Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Each of these four bring a little something different and will probably edge Baron Batch and Curtis McNeal out of a spot on the active roster for Week 1. Pittsburgh has elected for the backfield platoon in recent years, but Bell could seize the lion's share in 2013.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Heath Miller could very well his the NFL regular season's opening month, and this robs Big Ben of a key asset that's been around his entire career. Matt Spaeth is the frontrunner to fill in given his experience with Pittsburgh, though David Paulson and David Johnson could get a shot.
At receiver the key will be replacing Mike Wallace's ability to stretch defenses, and that's where rookie Markus Wheaton comes in; Wheaton's ability to prove a viable deep option during training camp is absolutely critical. Emmanuel Sanders will need to step up as well — as he should receive much of the targets Wallace leaves behind — but isn't a terrifying burner like Wallace was or Wheaton could be. Antonio Brown should get back to being a YAC-monster with Big Ben healthy. Jerricho Cotchery seems safe to make the roster while Plaxico Burress will battle for his job.
Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame candidacy will be greatly enhance by how terrible his offensive lines have been. This could be the most decent unit since the beginning of his career given the rookie investments the organization has been made. Of course, said early-round rookies have to pan out in right guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams. Center Maurkice Pouncey has been fine while vets T Marcus Gilbert, T Kevin Beachum, T Guy Whimper and G Ramon Foster could all see first-team reps in camp.
Ziggy Hood has never lived up to his draft status and will face competition from 2011 first-rounder Cameron Heyward. End Brett Keisel has been showing wear but should have at least one decent year left. Steve McClendon fills the massive shoes of Casey Hampton at the nose, while Alameda Ta'amu could spell him.
The Steelers' 3-4 scheme under Dick LeBeau has always leaned heavily on James Harrison's ability to both blitz and cover at an All-Pro level. Now either Worilds or Jones will fill that void. Worilds hasn't blown off the doors off when on-field while Jones was considered the best pure pass-rusher in the draft by many experts. LaMarr Woodley must rebound from down year at LOLB. Lawrence Timmons has become the latest in a tradition of excellent Steelers linebackers and is joined by aging Larry Foote at starting ILB.
Ike Taylor will man the No. 1 corner spot yet again and will probably see Allen across from him. William Gay, Curtis Brown and Terry Hawthorne are among those battling for the other snaps at corner, with an outside chance of even starting. The Steelers are hoping for at least one more elite year out of a safety unit that again trots out Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Shamarko Thomas learns the "Steeler Way" on the bench in the meantime.
Shaun Suisham posted a career year by nailing 28 of 31 field goals in 2012 yet will be challenged in camp by Daniel Hrapmann, while second-year punter Drew Butler faces vet Brian Moorman, who played under their special teams coach back in Buffalo. The return game should be absolutely wide open in training camp, as the best kick (Sanders) and punt (Brown) returners on squad will factor heavily in the receiving game already. Stephens-Howling did a good job of it in Arizona, and could potentially emerge in the return game for Pittsburgh.