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: Stephon Tuitt returning from injury…and to dominance?
The Steelers made splash after splash on defense last year—and I’m not even talking about the games. First they signed cornerback Steven Nelson in free agency to a three-year deal worth $25.5 million. Then they added Mark Barron as a starting inside linebacker at $12 million over two years. in the draft, they made a bold trade up in the first round to get Devin Bush. Even in-season, they gave up a first-round pick to get eventual first-team All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The front office didn’t have the same kind of resources to put into the defense this year—in fact, they even released Barron in a cap-saving move—but they also didn’t need to. They even lost a key piece of the defense in Javon Hargrave, even while managing to keep another, tagging Bud Dupree.
But they are still getting one major addition, or at least getting one back, in Stephon Tuitt. You’ve already heard all about this, but is it one of the principle storylines in training camp. The return of Tuitt. Now in his seventh season, he’s still looking to have his first completely healthy year as a starter, since 2015.
When he has been on the field, he has been dominant for stretches. In the firs five-plus games of the 2019 season, before he suffered a pectoral injury that put him on injured reserve, he already had three and a half sacks and 22 tackle, six of which went for a loss.
Is that the kind of player that the Steelers are getting back this year? Well, we won’t know that for sure until he actually gets on the field, of course. He has that kind of talent, but is there something he has lost, or at least something that he has to work through to get back?
The team only has a limited amount of time in training camp to test that out before putting it into motion for the regular season. Maybe he has to play his way back into form. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe has an All-Pro level season. I’m ready to find out.