Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow
We don’t need a fancy headline for this one. We all know what it’s about, and we all know that there isn’t a single body part more crucial to the Steelers’ success or failure this year that can be foreseen. Roethlisberger lost 14 and a half games of playing time last season after tearing three tendons in his throwing elbow.
That required surgery and month of rehab, but he is back to looking like his old self on the practice field, according to those in observance, though Mike Tomlin did say that he is still looking to see that nice, tight spiral from his quarterback. Even if Roethlisberger isn’t necessarily renowned for the most beautiful passes in the game, often taking on a more utilitarian, Point-A-to-Point-B form.
Roethlisberger has been throwing footballs since February, and he gradually ramped up the intensity and frequency of his throws over the course of the offseason. In fact, he has thrown more this offseason than he has done in any other offseason probably in a good five-plus years, maybe even 10 years, as he openly acknowledges that he typically uses the offseason to rest his arm after throwing 600 passes during the year.
Since he missed the season, though, and since he’s rehabbing his arm, he’s been throwing a good and consistent amount for months on end, and he hasn’t been alone. We have seen the videos of him throwing passes to the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner in the offseason. We recently learned that he invited Eric Ebron to stay at his house to get to know one another and work on establishing a rhythm.
This is all well and good, but it really comes down to whether or not he can hold up over a full 16-game season, something we’re not going to learn in training camp. But that’s not going to stop observers from intensely watching every time he drops back to pass over the next few weeks.