Week 1 preparations for the Pittsburgh Steelers opener in Denver against the Broncos get in full swing on Monday and below are five questions that will need to be answered come Sunday night.
Harrison & Worilds: Today is the day that starting right outside linebacker James Harrison and back up outside linebacker Jason Worilds are scheduled to return to the practice field after being removed from the PUP list last week. Mike Prusita of DVE Radio reported after the final preseason game that a defensive player told him that both players will be ready to play Sunday night against Denver. Both must get through the week of practice first, as Harrison is coming off a knee procedure done just a few weeks ago, and Worilds is reportedly still dealing with a wrist that will not hinge properly. Not only do they both need to get in some sort of football shape as soon as possible, but they both also must quickly acclimate themselves to the whatever changes were made schematically this offseason to the defense. Denver offers up the challenge of thin air, so that too is a concern. The Steelers gave Chris Carter a ton of work during the preseason and chose to keep undrafted free agent outside linebacker Adrian Robinson on the 53 man roster just in case both Harrison and Worilds are not ready.
Wallace Conditioning, Knowledge & Contract: Monday also figures to be the first time that wide receiver Mike Wallace hits the practice field in pads since showing up last week and signing his one-year restricted tender. While Wallace has been working out down in Florida recently with trainer Tom Shaw, and claims that he has been studying his play book this offseason, both his football conditioning and understanding of the offense will be put to the test this week in practice. It is hard to imagine that Wallace will play every snap on offense in Denver, but the more he can be on the field, the better. Also by the end of the week we should know whether or not he has a long-term contract, a question that we have been waiting to get answered since the team last came home from Denver last January.
Starks & Foster: Max Starks is ready to start at left tackle after recovering from a torn ACL he suffered the last time to Denver. Starks was not having a great half against Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil prior to his injury and he has one more week of practice to prepare himself for the rematch. Ramon Foster is back at the starting right guard spot after rookie David DeCastro suffered a serious knee injury in the Steelers third preseason game against the Bills. DeCastro figures to be back at some point during the season, but until then, Foster has to hold down the fort like seasons past.
Redman or Dwyer or Both: Starter Isaac Redman has been dealing with bumps and bruises all during the preseason and he didn\’t get much quality tune-up game action as a result. Jonathan Dwyer, on the other hand, took advantage of every ounce of playing time he received and thus will be hard to keep off of the field Sunday night in Denver. Are the Steelers headed for a full blown running back by committee to start the season, or will Redman get the bulk of the early down work regardless? Dwyer has made a great case for himself that he should be the starter, but we likely have to wait until Sunday night to see if the coaching staff feels the same.
Special Teams: The preseason offered up a roller coaster ride in regard to special teams play that culminated with two electric punt returns for touchdowns by rookie Chris Rainey that were both called back because of penalties. Amos Jones, who now runs the show after the Steelers parted ways with Al Everest a few weeks ago, lost one of his demons for the season in the form of rookie Sean Spence in the preseason finale and will also likely be without Stevenson Sylvester, another heavy special teams contributor, for the opener in addition. Jones figures to have to field units that will include two undrafted free agents in Robinson and Robert Golden as well as rookie draft picks Rainey and David Paulson.