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By Chris G.
It has been an off season of transition for the Pittsburgh Steelers with a new offensive coordinator, long-time veterans being released and an outstanding rookie class. But even with the new faces in town, the same high standard for the team is in place.
That does not mean that the Steelers are not without their questions. It is virtually impossible for any team to address all of its needs in one off season, and that does not exclude the Steelers.
As good as the off season moves have looked on paper, the coaches and players still need to prove themselves on gameday. That will all start later this summer when training camp kicks off.
Until then, the team will go through OTAs and could potentially make a couple of small moves in free agency to finalized the camp roster.
Here are five key questions heading into training camp.
Is the New offense the “Rosetta Stone”?
There is a lot to like about Haley, including his willingness to design an offense to accommodate the team’s strengths. But with a new offense comes a new playbook and according to what Ben Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it sounds pretty complicated.
“I joke and say that my final paper for Miami on Tibet was a lot easier than the Rosetta Stone we’re doing now here.”
The Miami of Ohio graduate will need to graduate from the playbook very soon as he will be expected to lead the new offense in just a couple of months and he has a lot to learn as virtually the entire playbook is different.
“Off the top of my head, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s a 90 percent change.”
However, these are professional football players. and they are on a team that expects big time results this season. There should be little concern over whether the players learn the system, but rather how long it will take them to execute it.
Should the Steelers Add a Veteran Running Back?
With Rashard Mendenhall expected to start the season on the PUP list as he continues to recover from an ACL injury, there have been some questions as to whether the Steelers should add a veteran running back in free agency.
Isaac Redman is the Steelers’ most proven back, and he has been very limited in his playing time, though, when given the opportunity he has been successful.
Behind Redman are the talented, but underachieving Jonathan Dwyer, power back John Clay, potential third-down back coming off an ACL injury Baron Batch and electric rookie Chris Rainey.
Even though a veteran back could stabilize this group, there is so much potential here the Steelers should just give them a chance.
Redman should be effective as the starter, and Dwyer has the talent to be a starting running back and is working towards improving his game as he will train with Tom Shaw this summer.
Clay is a nice situational back, while Batch has the potential to be a third-down option with Rainey as a potential do-it-all back.
A veteran would mean that at least one of these players would not get a chance to showcase his skills. At this point, are there any veteran backs better than what the Steelers have? Probably not.
Will DeCastro and Adams Contribute?
I think there is little question that David DeCastro will come in an start on the offensive line from the opening week of the season.
Do not expect him to begin camp as the starter as they’ll likely treat him like Maurkice Pouncey, who started with the second string but quickly forced his way into the starting lineup.
Mike Adams, however, has a chance to contribute, but how long will it take?
Adams should have an opportunity to compete at both left and right tackle. Pittsburgh’s offensive line has not exactly been one of the best in the league and need to have an open competition for these spots, particularly with Adams and Willie Colon.
Roethlisberger has been battered and beaten over his career, and in a couple of years, he could have one of the league’s best offensive lines in front of him. The question is whether the Steelers will go all in with both rookies this year or ease Adams into the lineup.
How Much Will the Steelers Miss James Farrior?
James Farrior’s play will not be missed much; he was a part-time player. However, his leadership will be a huge loss. He was the coach on the field for the defense, and that is difficult to replace.
Larry Foote is next in line to take over Farrior’s position, which is not an issue considering his time starting with the Steelers’ defense in the past and splitting time with Farrior last year.
Stevenson Sylvester will compete with Foote for playing time, but neither carry the same leadership role with the defense that Farrior did.
Foote is definitely a respectable presence on the field and in the locker room and has a good understanding of the defense, but he did not have the elite level of play that Farrior did for many years.
This could put more pressure on Lawrence Timmons, who I believe had an underwhelming season last year playing multiple positions.
Ideally, Timmons will slide over into Farrior’s role and Foote will step into Timmons old spot.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the coaching staff replaces Farrior’s presence.
Which Cornerback Will Step Up?
The battle for the starting cornerback job opposite Ike Taylor will be a three-man race between Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.
Lewis will have the first opportunity as was the third cornerback off the bench last season behind Taylor and William Gay.
It has taken Lewis time to develop, but has shown he can be a solid cornerback. He will face stiff competition from the other two options.
Allen came into the NFL very raw, but proved himself in camp and earned playing time with the defense. If his development continues, he will be starting very soon.
I do believe the favorite is Brown. Even though he was hampered by injuries last season, he has the highest upside of the three and will have every opportunity to showcase those skills this year.
Regardless of who wins the job, the talent and additional year of experience of this young group will provide the Steelers with their best group of cornerbacks in years.
Follow me on Twitter @ChrisG_FC