By Jeremy Hritz
Back on June 16th, I wrote an article about ten questions that were facing the Pittsburgh Steelers as they advanced towards their first game against the Denver Broncos. As the Steelers gear up for their second contest of the preseason, it is time to evaluate the Steelers in regards to these questions to see what, if any, progress has been made.
10. Who will be the starting five offensive linemen?
There was much optimism prior to training camp about this group being the best the Steelers have fielded in years, and since then, that optimism has somewhat subsided, especially after the performance of Mike Adams at left tackle against the Philadelphia Eagles. With Max Starks being removed off of the PUP list, it appears that the left tackle position is his to lose, unless Adams ascends to a higher level of play. Willie Colon needs to stay healthy, as injuries have been an issue with him in the past, yet thankfully, he will return Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. At this time, the starting lineup come Bronco time will most likely be, from left to right, Starks, Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert.
9. What role will Sean Spence play on the Steelers defense?
The buzz that followed Spence during OTAs and minicamp has somewhat dissipated. In the offseason, he impressed his coaches with his understanding of the defense and his abilities to play football in shorts. The buzz has been somewhat quiet during training camp, and his showing against the Eagles was unremarkable too, as he was overpowered a few times. It is still too early to draw any definitive conclusion about Spence, but the notions of earning a starting spot can definitely be cast aside. At this point, Spence will be a contributor on special teams, and possibly, he will earn a role in the Steelers third down defense.
8. Will Cortez Allen or Curtis Brown be able to prove that they are the better choice at left cornerback?
If we judge Brown on his performance against the Eagles in which he was burned on a couple big plays, then without question, he will not be starting opposite Taylor. Allen had a decent game against the Eagles and played with discipline. Keenan Lewis, however, has had a solid camp, and has shown that he is able to play through injuries, demonstrating toughness that the coaches like. At this point, based on the length of resume, look for Lewis to get the nod over Allen, who will have to flash some big play ability to wrestle the starting job away.
7. Will the Steelers offense master the Rosetta Stone?
It’s still too early to tell here. The purpose of the offensive approach in the first game was to work on the short passing game, which they did. If there is anything to take away about the offense from the first showing is that it is much more intentional and deliberate, and not as random as it was under Bruce Arians. We should be able to develop a much fairer assessment after the third preseason game when the starters get at least a half of work. Realistically, this is a question that will be answered throughout the year.
6. Will Chris Rainey live up to the OTA/Mini-Camp hype?
Absolutely. It can be argued that Rainey is having the best camp of any Steeler this year. He was also able to translate it over to his first live game action against the Eagles. Rainey has to show that he can be durable despite his small frame, and he must limit touches that result in big losses, something that was slightly evident in week one of the preseason. Bottom line, Rainey looks to be a gem that will be a fixture with the Steelers for several years.
5. Which rookie free agent, if any, will surprise everybody and make the team?
Adrian Robinson has been having a decent run at outside linebacker but still has a ways to go before he makes the team, though injuries at the position may help his cause. As Dave Bryan pointed out, guard Ryan Lee had a solid night blocking against the Eagles, though it came against scrubs. Kicker Danny Hrappman hit a 43 yard field goal with a bit of pressure in the 4th quarter. Safety Robert Golden has earned some attention. The expectations for Marquis Maze haven’t necessarily been met, though he had an OK preseason game. At this point in time, it is not looking good for any of the undrafted rookies outside of Robinson, but there is plenty of time left to make an impression.
4. Which draft pick(s) will get the axe?
DeCastro, Adams, Spence, Alameda Ta’amu, and Rainey are all locks to make the team. On the cusp is tight end David Paulson who has been somewhat of a surprise. Struggling to hang on at this point are Terrence Frederick, Kelvin Beachum, and Toney Clemons, who all need to elevate their performances over the next three games to show that they are worthy of making the team.
3. Can Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley co-exist constructively?
Again, a bit early to draw a solid conclusion here, because until the stress and pressures of a real game confront these two, there is no way of knowing the result. However, so far so good, and if anything, their relationship has been marked by positivity. I still maintain that this will not be an issue during the season despite all of the media attention that this topic has received.
2. Can the Steelers make it to week 1 without a significant injury?
Injuries have had somewhat of an impact on the team so far with Isaac Redman, John Clay, Colon, David Johnson, Keenan Lewis, Jonathan Dwyer, and Mike Adams getting banged up, yet thankfully, only Johnson and Clay have been lost for the entire season. The coaching staff has been proactive about resting veterans to prevent small bumps and bruises from developing into debilitating injuries. The lack of improvement from James Harrison is a bit concerning, but with the likelihood of him playing in his last year, it gives the Steelers an opportunity to begin experimenting with other players at the position. Knock on wood, the Steelers have avoided any truly impactful injuries, outside of Johnson, and hopefully that will continue. The team simply cannot afford to lose one of their studs like Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu if they want to compete in 2012.
1. Will Mike Wallace report to camp on time and with a new contract?
Damn this question already. It looks like Wallace will return the final week of the preseason. Without the emergence of a receiver after Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery, Wallace’s return is all the more important. At this point, nobody knows what the outcome of his return will be and whether or not he will sign an extension.