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: Injuries, the great equalizer
As we saw on Monday with the first day of padded practices, the coronavirus isn’t going to keep the injury bug on the back burner for long. A number of teams lost players, including starters or ascending players competing for prominent roles, for the remainder of the season, or for much of the season, due to injury.
As of yesterday, the Steelers have been fortunate so far in having only three players dealing with minor injuries, those being Chris Wormley, James Washington, and David DeCastro, none of whom were anticipated to be out for a very long time. That was, at least, before Kevin Dotson’s injury.
Given the team’s luck with injuries last year, including but not limited to Ben Roethlisberger, Sean Davis, Stephon Tuitt, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Maurkice Pouncey, Mason Rudolph, Vance McDonald, and others, it would be a nice change of pace if they can get through this year relatively clean.
It would be a start if they can at least make it to the regular season healthy with their core players. A number of teams have already lost out on that possibility. The Steelers are still in the running to have a fully healthy roster by the time the actual games begin. They won’t have to worry about preseason injuries, at least, but there are 12 padded practices to go.
Players returning from injury are also worthy of discussion here, giving the significance of some of them, particularly Roethlisberger, and to a lesser extent, Tuitt. Those two players going down were big, the former much more so, of course. Their return is even bigger, provided that they can stay healthy and play through a full season at a high level.
Injuries, though, are inevitable, and so then it comes down to a question of insulation. Are the Steelers properly insulated to injury in enough places to be comfortable? It’s virtually impossible to have adequate depth of experience or pedigree at every position. Inside linebacker is still thin, for example, the backups having zero combined defensive snaps.