By Jeremy Hritz
It’s crazy to think that only a few short months ago, Steelers fans everywhere were licking the wounds inflicted by the dubious Bronco Tim Tebow. In less than three months, the Steelers will have an opportunity to get revenge against the now Peyton Manning-led Broncos on a Sunday Night. Within that time span, several of the questions that are facing the team will be answered, and some certainty will be attained regarding the 2012 season.
So what are the most intriguing questions that will be answered? Below is a list of ten questions, in no specific order, that have many anticipating their resolution.
10. Who will be the starting five offensive linemen?
The optimism is roaring in Pittsburgh surrounding the offensive line, and when considering the quality of the unit over the past few years, it is easy to understand why. With four positions set with Maurkice Pouncey at center, Willie Colon at left guard, Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, and David DeCastro at right guard, the biggest question mark is at the left tackle position. While rookie Mike Adams will be given every opportunity to show that he can start at left tackle, there is much uncertainty whether or not that will happen. If Adams does not pan out, Max Starks, if healthy, could be re-signed and inserted at the position.
9. What role will Sean Spence play on the Steelers defense?
I wrote about Spence last week and the impression that he has made on his coaches, drawing very high praise that is uncharacteristic of such reputable figures such as Dick LeBeau and Keith Butler. While starting Sunday Night against the Broncos is quite the long shot, Spence will undoubtedly fill some role, most likely on third downs, in the middle of the defense. Spence will add some dynamics to the Steelers defense which will hopefully result in increased turnovers in 2012.
8. Will Cortez Allen or Curtis Brown be able to prove that they are the better choice at left cornerback?
Most of the media covering the Steelers have anointed Keenan Lewis as the starting corner opposite Ike Taylor next season. Lewis himself has outwardly expressed confidence and has stated that he has set the goal of making the Pro Bowl this year. However, Steelers coaches are high on Allen and Brown, and if they have a solid camp, one of them could possibly bump Lewis. Both Allen and Brown will have to show that they have taken a step and progressed, and that they have put their injuries from last year behind them.
7. Will the Steelers offense master the Rosetta Stone?
Learning anything new is challenging. The success of the Steelers offense will hinge on having a firm understanding of the new playbook. With the work done in OTAs and in Mini Camp, and with time before training camp to study and prepare, there is no reason offensive players should not be ready to hit the ground running. These are professionals that have learned countless playbooks over their careers, and to excuse mistakes as a result of being unfamiliar with the playbook is unacceptable. While it is unlikely they will have a 100% grasp, they should as close as they can possibly be as a result of their efforts between now and camp. Their competency will be on display for the entire league to see against Denver.
6. Will Chris Rainey live up to the OTA/Mini-Camp hype?
No rookie has received more attention this offseason (Spence excluded) than Florida running back Chris Rainey. Rainey’s agility, burst, and speed are a rare combination that could provide a unique dimension to the Steelers offense. Additionally, Rainey could make significant contributions on special teams as a return man.
5. Which rookie free agent, if any, will surprise everybody and make the team?
Defensive end Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, wide receiver Marquis Maze, and cornerback Terry Carter have been a few names that have been thrown around as surprises during OTAs/Mini Camp. Will they show enough in Latrobe to earn a roster spot?
4. Which draft pick(s) will get the axe?
While there is always optimism following the NFL Draft, it is inevitable that some players from this year’s draft class will get the axe. DeCastro, Adams, Spence, Rainey, and Alameda Ta’amu all appear to be roster locks. And while wide receiver Toney Clemons had coaches excited after the draft, noise surrounding his performance in OTAs/Mini-Camp was minimal. While it does not mean anything until the pads are on, the lack of buzz could be telling.
3. Can Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley co-exist constructively?
Both are grown men, and both have a job to do. Unfortunately, both doggedly believe in the way that they do things. Will they be able to agree to disagree and have a productive working relationship, or will they let their egos get in the way and hinder the success of the offense? The best way to prevent a volatile relationship between Roethlisberger and Haley? Win.
2. Can the Steelers make it to week 1 without a significant injury?
This needs no explanation, and it is the greatest fear of every team each and every year. The Steelers need to ensure that their players are healthy, especially Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu. The effects of their absences are well documented.
1. Will Mike Wallace report to camp on time and with a new contract?
The one annoying questions that will not just go away. The longer this standoff goes on, the more the doubt creeps in. Wallace is needed in order for this offense to reach its explosive potential.