View Full Version : Pittsburgh Steelers: Top Ten Camp Concerns

07-03-2010, 12:09 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers: Top Ten Camp Concerns
Nick DeWitt
Bleacher Report

As July opens, NFL teams each begin the long road to Training Camp, and the 2010 football season. Each team heads to their respective training grounds with significant questions to answer.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it has been a long, difficult offseason punctuated by injuries, off-field misbehavior. Here are the top 10 concerns for Mike Tomlin and company as we all get ready for the season ahead

1. The Replacements: Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger is suspended for four to six games to start the season.
Charlie Batch is supposedly in the race, but the battle belongs to young Dennis Dixon and veteran Byron Leftwich. While most fans, including myself, feel that Dixon should be the starter, Mike Tomlin has been indicating that Leftwich will get the first chances. He's taken more snaps with the first team.
Dixon's athletic ability and skills give him a slight edge, but Leftwich has experience as a starter.

2. The Replacements: Wide Receiver
Holmes was shipped to the Jets for a 5th round draft choice after yet another off-field incident. Mike Wallace will have to prove he truly is a 60 minute man, as he will likely be asked to start opposite Hines Ward. Wallace has good speed, good hands, and runs acceptable (and improving) routes.
Wallace may develop into a top receiver. He certainly has the playmaking ability. But he is mostly a speed receiver who thrived on being the third best guy on the field. Teams had to cover Ward and Holmes. Wallace and tight end Heath Miller were then free to become big targets in the passing game.
Now, the pressure and target will be on Wallace. He will draw double teams because of his speed and he will no longer be free to roam the middle. Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, as well as veteran Antwaan Randle El will also get chances if Wallace struggles. Look for one of them to replace Wallace as the go to guy in tough spots.

3. The Replacements: Right Tackle
Willie Colon will be hard to replace. My first reaction is to be glad it was not the left tackle, who protects the quarterback's blind side. My second was that the Steelers theoretically have the depth to fix this.
First, Maurkice Pouncey starts at right guard. He's physically gifted enough for any of the interior line positions and, with center Justin Hartwig entrenched for this season, it makes sense to make use of his skill somewhere.
Trai Essex, who did a good job filling in for injured Darnell Stapleton last season (so good that Stapleton is gone now), gets the call again, this time at right tackle. Essex was drafted as a tackle, so this is his natural position.
This is probably of more importance than the first two replacement jobs. The team's offensive line struggles are becoming legendary. If someone can't plug the holes, then all of the Steelers quarterbacks are going to be seeing a lot of the turf.

4. The Return of Troy
Without Troy Polamalu last season, the Steelers vaunted defense didn't just seem pedestrian. They seemed awful. That's not to say all of their struggles were Polamalu-related, but the Steelers defense is a different and dangerous animal when #43 is on the field.
So far, so good. Polamalu seems fully recovered, he's cutting well and running at full speed. If Polamalu is fully healthy and ready for action, then suddenly Dick LeBeau's vaunted unit looks ready to be dominant once again.

5. Decline and Fall
It happens to everyone in sports. Eventually the body just cannot and will not cope with any more punishment.
Several Steelers are knocking on that door. Whether or not they finally hit the wall will determine a lot about this season.
Hines Ward is probably the top name on this list. He's 34 and entering his 13th season. He also plays one of the most punishing styles of receiver ever.
He's thrilling to watch, but he's also more and more likely to go down. So far, he's defied logic by being a smaller guy who delivers huge hits. He could be confused with a linebacker or strong safety if not for the league's numbering system.
If Ward goes down, the Steelers' passing game will suffer greatly. He's their biggest and most consistent threat. Losing him would be akin to losing Polamalu last season.
Also aging are defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, both in their 30s as well. James Harrison may be young in experience, but he's getting on in years too.
Losing any one of these four players could put the Steelers in a precarious spot, as depth at their positions, especially on the defensive line, is not very good.

6. Secondary Concerns
The Steelers' secondary, particularly the corners, were awful in 2009. William Gay couldn't step into Bryant McFadden's shoes, looking over-matched and out of place all season. Ike Taylor, once assigned to cover the league's top talent, looked unable to cope with the loss of Troy Polamalu.
No one could intercept a pass or create a turnover. It was ugly from beginning to end.
Ike Taylor is back for one more try. If he fails now, there's plenty of young talent knocking on the door. Also back is McFadden, who will thankfully replace Gay, who returns to his role in the nickel and dime, where he excelled as a rookie.
Also available are several talented youngsters: Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis, and rookie Crezdon Butler all could play a significant role this season.

7. Isn't That Special
After three years and declining production, the Steelers fired special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky.
A unit that last year was continually plagued by long returns, several of which went for touchdowns, has been entirely revampled and is now under the coaching of Al Everest, a respected name in special teams coaching.
Will Allen and Arnaz Battle will provide veteran leadership to the unit. Young draft picks will provide speed and muscle. Everest will provide a better scheme.
This unit looks much stronger than last year's edition. Sadly, if the current players struggle, the only solution will be to risk playing starters on the coverage units, which several teams do.

8. Offensive Coordination
The Steelers took a huge risk this offseason by not investing in an offensive coordinator with a proven track record. Instead, they will continue with Bruce Arians, who has a track record for, well, strange play-calling.
Arians will be asked to curb the passing trend that defined the Steelers in 2009. Both Art Rooney and Mike Tomlin want more running plays and a return to a ball control offense. These are not Arians' strong suit, so it will be a huge challenge.
I said before that keeping Arians was a mistake. This season will either prove or disprove that statement. He is the coach on the hottest seat within the organization.

9. Running the Gauntlet
Rashard Mendenhall emerged last season as a top running back. In his first season as a starter, Mendenhall topped the 1,000 yard mark and proved to be both an explosive running and tough inside guy.
He is the complete back the Steelers really have not had since Barry Foster. He can get the tough inside yards like Jerome Bettis or bounce outside like Willie Parker.
The problem is, he's now all alone.
Mewelde Moore is more of a pass-catching threat than a running back. Jonathan Dwyer is likely to be the new pounder at the goal line, but he's untested.
Mendenhall is expected to shoulder a bigger load this year as well with the new commitment to running the ball again.
He doesn't have many holes in his game, but fumbles were a problem last season. He resembled Adrian Peterson in a lot of ways. He was great at gaining yards but, when fighting for more, he could lose the ball.
The running game as a whole is going to be a huge focus area this season, so Mendenhall's performance will dictate a lot about the 2010 season.

10. Image is Everything
The Steelers Mystique suffered innumerable hits during the offseason. Starting with Ben Roethlisberger's legal troubles and ending with questions about the team's ability to produce under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have much to answer for in the coming season.
At various points, Mike Tomlin has been lauded and criticized in the press. He's been accused of winning with Bill Cowher's roster rather than putting his own stamp on the team.
I tend to disagree. Any coach who wins a Super Bowl has done a phenomenal job of coaching his team.
But to silence the critics on the eve of what will be very interesting extension talks, Tomlin must take charge and prove that this is where he belongs. He's got no shortage of challenges to overcome, so this will have to be his best work to date.
Ben Roethlisberger's image will take longer to rehabilitate, but he must start as soon as his suspension lifts by winning football games on the field and being a model citizen off of it. The Rooney family will not accept less.
The defense and running game, hallmarks of Steelers teams of the past, must return to prominence and effectiveness or several players and coaches could find themselves in street clothes.
All of this work begins at the end of the month when camp opens. It's time to put the puzzle together and see if the Pittsburgh Steelers can shirk the analysts and return to the top.

07-03-2010, 02:52 PM
Number five doesn't concern me as much as it has in past seasons. I think Tomlin and Colbert have done a good job injecting youth into our defense. Ziggy Hood, Sunny Harris, Jason Worilds, Thad Gibson, Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis, Crezdon Butler are all young guys I expect to start making some impacts for this team within the next few seasons.

In next years draft I suspect we take a hard look at nose tackle and try to find a replacement for Big Snack. Inside linebacker might be a position of need also but Timmons is 24 and Fox (play does not drop off when he is on the field) is 28 so the need is not as great. Plus, I'd like to see how Stevenson Sylvester pans out.