Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: 5 Early Storylines to Watch
The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to fire up the football machine and kick off training camp on Friday, and Steelers fans, football is back! It has been the longest of offseasons, and so everyone has had entirely too much time to think about last season and what will happen this season.
However, what really matters over the next month? Are there any significant personal choices this team has to make? Or will Pittsburgh be able to focus more on scheme and strategy? The answers to these questions will vary greatly depending on whom you ask.
Let’s take a closer look at five potential storylines to keep an eye on during Steelers training camp.
Unless specified, all stats come courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.
Find a Leader on Defense
It was a bitter pill to swallow to watch the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense fall to No. 14 in points allowed and No. 13 in yards allowed in 2013. There aren’t enough fingers to point at all the things that went wrong with this unit.
Unfortunately, because it was week to week, it makes it hard to focus on a specific area or two as areas of emphasis during training camp. Obviously, getting more sacks and turnovers must be key. These are things that should be done by scheme and the addition of some young, athletic superstars like linebacker Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt.
Nevertheless, if this team ultimately wants to be successful, one of these veterans needs to take a leadership role on the field. There’s a real possibility this team will have only one defensive starter over the age of 30, and that’s safety Troy Polamalu.
Can a future Hall of Fame safety like Polamalu be that guy? Honestly, it needs to be someone like linebacker Lawrence Timmons to take the reins and be the guy to keep this team motivated and playing hard on every down. Another season of complacency just won’t do.
The Development of Martavis Bryant
The Steelers are going to be breaking in lots of new faces at wide receiver this year. If you remove Antonio Brown from the mix, the remaining receivers on the roster have a combined eight catches as part of the Steelers.
However, help is on the way in the form of a rookie named Martavis Bryant. At 6’4” and with legit 4.4 speed, Bryant has all the trappings of a great NFL wide receiver. The key will be how his development comes along in camp. If he can earn the trust of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he could find himself in that third wide receiver role. And if that happens, all bets are off.
Brown, Markus Wheaton and Bryant can blow the top off any NFL defense with their speed. They will force safeties deep and allow the run game to flourish. Not to mention, those deep routes will create voids a smart player like tight end Heath Miller will exploit to the fullest.
Bryant has found his guidance early in the form of emulating his game after Cincinnati Bengals star A.J. Green. If there is a player to want to be like, there aren’t many better examples from a football standpoint than Green.
What to Do with Sean Spence?
One of the most interesting players to track as training camp progresses is second-year linebacker Sean Spence. Pittsburgh has been waiting patiently for two seasons to see what all the fuss was about when the Steelers drafted him in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.
With the addition of Ryan Shazier this year, the Steelers are hedging their bets that Spence might not be ready for prime time just yet. However, it is encouraging Spence seems to be close to full health as training camp approaches. James Wexell of scout.com was pleased with what he saw.
Sean Spence wins Mr. OTA, easily, but CB Antwon Blake a solid runner-up. Only saw him beat deep once, and Antonio Brown dropped the ball.— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) June 17, 2014
The reality of the situation is, until he’s out there in pads making plays, we won’t know just how good he can be. Nevertheless, if he can be his old self, he’s at worst the third-most athletic linebacker on the team, and that makes for an excellent problem to have.
Build on the Momentum of 2013
Everything that was wrong with the first half of the 2013 season was right about the second half. There wasn’t a team in the league that made the kind of rebound the Steelers did. All anyone wants to talk about is the 8-8 finish and missing the playoffs. However, don’t overlook that 6-2 finish.
That strong finish gives this team an excellent foundation for training camp. Emphasis on the no-huddle offense, more quick hitting, power running and looking down field in the passing game should be the things this team hones and perfects.
On defense, the same cannot be said. Even down the stretch when the offense was humming, the defense continued to falter. But if there is one area Pittsburgh can look at as a positive to build on, it was its effort against other AFC North teams.
The Steelers defense allowed 23.7 points per game for the season, but against their division rivals the defense only gave up 16. Pittsburgh needs to look at what was different about those games and apply it during training camp in hopes it can rub off on every 2014 opponent.
Prepare for Those High-Powered Offenses
Looking over the Steelers’ 2014 schedule, things look more than a little daunting. Even if it’s assumed the Cleveland Browns will be without Josh Gordon, things don’t improve much for the prospects for a very mediocre secondary.
Here is a list of the wide receivers the Steelers will face in 2014:
- Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
- Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens
- Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
- Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
- T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
- Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
- Eric Decker, New York Jets
This list doesn’t take into account the plethora of talented tight ends and pass-catching running backs on these teams as well. The secondary was a problem area all of 2013 and really didn’t make any appreciable gains at cornerback. With this group on deck, the onus is really going to fall on the coaching staff and the players to amp up the pass rush in 2014 and take some heat off that unit.