TOP-5 STORYLINES TO WATCH IN CAMP
1. New sheriff in town on Offense: The top storyline entering camp is how the Steelers offense evolves under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley leading into week 1. Everyone will be waiting for the first dustup between Ben Roethlisberger and Haley and I’m sure Ben will be in top form working the media. As for the real storyline, if OTA’s was a glimpse, Pittsburgh will be looking to evolve into an explosive offense with more of an emphasis on a quicker passing game to get the ball into the Steelers dynamic receivers hands to make big plays after the catch, in addition to running the ball much more efficiently in the redzone and in short-yardage situations.
2. Will Mike Wallace show up? Contract talks remain on-going between the Steelers and wide receiver Mike Wallace who has yet to officially sign his RFA tender. With positive dialogue being established between the two sides, top Steeler officials had been cautiously optimistic from what’s being relayed to them from Wallace and his agent that Wallace intends to report to camp today. Wallace has been in frequent contact with head coach Mike Tomlin as of last week, and the Steelers have made it known to Wallace that if he holds out, there’s a chance the Steelers will break off talks. Holding out does him no good, however, the Steelers and Wallace remain a good several million apart on guaranteed money, so it’s possible Wallace and the agent take a risk and go the holdout route. As of last night, the Steelers were regarded as being confident that he will be showing up but not 100% sure that he will sign his tender and report.
3. How the Offensive Line Evolves: All eyes will be on how the Steelers offensive line evolves in Latrobe. The O-line has a number of storylines from the left tackle battle between Max Starks (Expected to begin camp on PUP) and second round pick Mike Adams, how Willie Colon transitions to left guard, to the right guard spot where the Steelers hope first round pick David DeCastro locks down the starting job in camp, like Maurkice Pouncey did in 2010 at center. One under-rated storyline is whether Marcus Gilbert in his second season makes that big jump like so many Steelers do and evolves into one of the best right tackles in the game. He’s motivated and has a shot to. If things go as planned and Colon transitions well to left guard and DeCastro is ready, Pittsburgh will have a powerful and nasty interior line with Colon – Pouncey – DeCastro left to right and a key is going the health of Maurkice Pouncey who last season never fully recovered from his ankle injury in 2010 and his play was down in 2011. If everyone is healthy going into week 1, bet on the Steelers starting five left to right being Max Starks – Willie Colon – Maurkice Pouncey – David DeCastro – Marcus Gilbert
4. Optimism at running back?: Rashard Mendenhall the team’s best running back is likely to begin the season on the pup list, yet there are not a lot of worries about the Steelers running back situation, despite a lot of inexperience at the position. People seem sold on Isaac Redman being able to fill a starters role after being great in that role last season for one game in the playoffs against Denver, rushing for 121 yards on 17 yards. However, Redman has never taken on a starters role and never carried the ball 20 times or more a game last season or his in career. Last season Redman only had 9 carries or more in three of 16 regular season games and in his career, Redman has only had 9 carries or more in three of 32 regular season games. It’s not a stretch to say that it’s possible he could get exposed as a starter. Behind Redman, there’s some promising youngsters in Baron Batch who’s a complete back, and speedster Chris Rainey who adds some explosiveness and ability to catch out of the backfield. Both though have never appeared in an NFL game. One battle to watch will be Jonathan Dwyer vs Jonn Clay. Don’t be surprised if Dwyer pushes for serious playing time.
5. Battle for starting cornerback spot: The best battle in camp and the one I’m looking forward to watching could end up being the starting cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor. Keenan Lewis will go into the camp as the starter at the position based on experience but Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown are both going to make strong pushes to leap Lewis on the depth chart. Internally, the Steelers are said to hope Cortez Allen, who has the highest upside and playmaking ability of the three, can emerge as a starter this season. Brown is viewed as an ideal fit to replace the departed William Gay inside on passing downs.