Monday, July 26, 2010

Things To Watch For: Steelers Training Camp

Well it is secret to nobody that the Steelers open up training camp soon. Some consider that this is the official end of baseball season, but I am not going to go quite that far with it. Sure it brings some more to talk about now that the Pirates are 30 games under, and it sure does start to get you ready for football season.

So for the start of training camp there are a few things that I have been wondering, as I am sure some of you have been, so I figured, hell, lets get this on the block and see what everyone has to say.

Here are a couple of my quick hitters:

1) What are the Steelers going to do on the offensive line?

Going into the off season last year the offensive line was one of the scrutinized in the NFL, and for good reason. There wasn't much of a running game and Ben was running for his life on almost every drop back. Things could have been better this year. Sure they weren't very good, but they were one unit. They go to learn each other and more importantly they drafted Maurkice Pouncey. Although only a rookie he is going to have to come in and contribute right away. Nobody is quite sure where he is going to play, guard or center, but he is going to play baring something really unforeseen.

Willie Colon, arguably the best lineman the Steelers had, is out for the season after a lifting accident which led to him to busting up his Achilles. Colon was defiantly the best run blocker the Steelers had, but wasn't the best pass blocker so I guess you can't say we lost an all-pro player. Well when you think about it we could say that about all our linemen. Damn. Whatev.

Wanna know the good part? The Steelers have won two Supers Bowls in the recent past with average at best lines. Sure, it is going to be tough this way, but hell, what are you going to do? The Steelers go to camp with Pouncey, Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Trai Essex, Jonathan Scott, Tony Hills, Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, Kraig Urbik, Chris Scott, Dorian Brooks and Kyle Jolly.

Wanna know what is good about this? Competition. Not only is there a spot on the line because of Colon's injury, but also because a lot of these lineman are versatile. That is what Mike Tomlin likes, versatile lineman. It gives him more options in game situations and also might put a little more pressure on the group that is tabbed as the "starters". Nothing makes a player better than adversity and competition and that is what this Steelers line has a lot of.

What is Sean Kugler's role going to be? He is the new offensive line coach for those of you who don't know. Maybe some fresh blood and new philosophies will sharpen some skills.

It will be interesting in camp to see who plays where, and for how many snaps. Will Pouncey play any center? Who is going to play right tackle? Hell, who is going to play left tackle and both guards? I really want to see the battles and the players push each other. It will only make them better. We all know that better is good.

2) The development of Mike Wallace.

Santonio Holmes is gone and Hines Ward is a year older. The other stay over from last season is then rookie Mike Wallace. Wallace was a beast for the black and gold last season and he is going to need to be big for this offense, even when Ben comes back from his suspension for doing nothing. Wallace caught six touchdown passes last year and over 750 yards.

Wallace is going to have an expanded role in the offence and he has to be ready to take that on and get better from last year. Tone is gone so I am sure there is going to be pressure, couple that with no Big Ben for at least four games and you have some pressure.

The Steelers did try to rectify the situation by bring back Antwaan Randle El and bringing in Arnaz Battle to give the WR corp some depth. I am curious to see how Wallace works and if he is still the guy who is going to be the first guy on the field and the last one out like he was much of last year. Teams are going to key on him more so he has to be sharp. He is no longer the small guy and can hide as the third WR. His development is something to watch.

3) How fast can the defense mesh after being away from each other?

Bryant McFadden, Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith. What do they all have in common? They weren't with the Steelers last year on the field. They are bringing back 36% of their Super Bowl defense that wasn't there in 2009.

It isn't only bringing in player that is going to make this team good. They have to work as one. All of these guys knows what the Steelers defense is, but in the case of McFadden and Foote they haven't been in the Steelers system for a whole season. I am sure it is not going to be hard to grasp the system but it will be important for them to regain that chemistry with their ex teammates.

Last year there were a lot of injuries and a lot of unrest with the defense who blew leads on a few occasions and did not step up to the plate like they have in the pass. Some of those fill in players are going to be pushing for time and roster spots. This could be a scary good defense if they get back to form quickly and it all starts with that ball hawk mentality in training camp.

4) Special teams

The third part of the football game, special teams, often gets overlooked, but it got the Steelers burned on more than one occasion last year. The Steelers went out and picked up aforementioned players in Randel El and Battle as well as drafted some linebackers that will most defiantly play some special teams in order to get that unit strong as it was in their last Super Bowl run.

Special teams is where players can get noticed and where football careers start. It is these kinda things that don't really catch anyone's attention, especially during camp, but one busted coverage on opening day will get people all rilled up.

With El and Battle in here that puts a lot of pressure on Stef Logan to do something to make this team. Logan was a special teams only players last season and with how good El was when he was with the Steelers the writing is on the wall that you either need to put up or shut up.

Watching how the youngsters play on special teams will give you a good glimpse of what they are going to be like as offensive and defensive players. If they can bust down and are able to be coached and do their job then they will probably be that kind of player in other instances. Watching the battles with the returns will also be huge as that will determine a roster spot. Oh training camp special teams.

Now don't get me wrong, these are not the only things to look for, but I just wanted to get my teeth sunk into something. There are many more things to look for in camp, but these are some of the things I want to hear and see about. They are not high profile stuff like Woodley's contract or the QB situation, but in my opinion they are just as important to the Steelers and will affect wins and losses.

What do you think? Am I off base? Leave it in the comments.

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