10 Questions Facing The Steelers Heading Into Training Camp – 2013 Edition

By Jeremy Hritz

The other day, I took a look back at the ten questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into training camp from 2012. A year later, it was interesting to reflect on the biggest issues facing the team to see which ones were still obstacles in 2013. While Mike Wallace is no longer the object of disdain in the Steelers Nation, some of the questions from last year are still relevant heading into this year’s training camp on July 26th. With that said, let’s take a look at the storylines that we will be paying close attention to as the team preps for its season opener against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

10. Can Jarvis Jones contribute in year one?

The Steelers outside linebackers have underperformed over the past two seasons, and with James Harrison now a Bengal, the Steelers are counting on Jason Worilds to fill the void. Or are they? With their first round selection in the 2013 Draft, the selected Jarvis Jones, an outside backer that early on was projected as a top five pick. The initial reports on Jones are that he is working hard and that he has an innate ability for the game. Whether or not that can translate into playing time, and ultimately pressure on the quarterback, has yet to be seen. Does he have an outside shot to beat out Worilds for a starting spot, or will he be a role player on third downs? The latter scenario seems to have the greater likelihood in Jones’ first season.

9. Will Le’Veon Bell meet the lofty expectations?

The Steelers have had some tremendous running backs over the years, but the running game hasn’t been anything special since the wheels fell off Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall danced into and out of Pittsburgh. Enter Le’Veon Bell, a back that many in the media are predicting to have a special rookie season, even naming him as a potential candidate to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Can Bell ascend and meet those expectations? His resume from college indicates a yes, but will his skills translate to the NFL? His first order of business will be beating out Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman for the starting job before he can present his case.

8. Will Heath Miller fully recover and return to his productive ways?

Heath Miller was the most integral part of the Steelers passing attack in 2012, and not having him early in the year, especially without Wallace, could result in some hiccups in the passing game. If the Steelers are going to make a championship push, they will need Miller to fully recover and produce as he did last season. And if he can’t, David Paulson and Matt Spaeth are going to have to step it up.

7. Can LaMarr Woodley rebound?

LaMarr Woodley has proven that he can play at a high level in the National Football League, despite struggling with injuries and conditioning issues during the last two seasons. The Steelers need Woodley to provide a threat off of the left side if they are to return to their dominating ways on defense, and based on early reports on Woodley’s conditioning, being out of shape will not undercut his play. Without Harrison, Woodley has to step up more than ever to lead the young outside linebackers by example, which hopefully means a double digit sack total.

6. Can the receiver corps overcome the loss of Mike Wallace?

While the Steelers organization is dealing with the distraction of Maurkice Pouncey and his ignorantly messaged ball cap, it is not nearly the distraction that the Wallace contract situation was from a year ago. While the distraction won’t be in the locker room, the deep speed will not be on the field either, and Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and rookie Markus Wheaton will have to show that no void has been left behind. Brown should be able to produce, and with Sanders in a contract year, he may be motivated to perform at an even higher level. As far as Wheaton is concerned, we won’t know what he is capable of until we see him in training camp since he missed mini-camps and OTAs.

5. Can new starters Cortez Allen, Steve McLendon, and Jason Worilds emerge as game-changers on defense?

The defense is in need of some playmakers, and with the insertion of Cortez Allen, Steve McLendon, and Worilds into the lineup, they could be the needed elements to turn the defense into a formidable unit. Allen demonstrated the ability to create turnovers at the end of last season, and in McLendon’s limited play, he brought a physical and chaotic presence to the middle of the defense. Worilds has shown a little, but the jury is still out on what he can do as the full time starter. Truthfully, the jury is out on Allen and McLendon, too. If they prove themselves to be productive members of the defense, it could provide a spark that the unit has been missing the last two seasons.

4. Can the offensive line live up to its billing?

One year later, this is still a question that hasn’t resolved itself. While the offensive line is loaded with talent, injuries have stifled its growth and development into a solid unit. Pouncey is the only proven commodity, when healthy, and Ramon Foster’s greatest asset is his consistency. David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Marcus Gilbert are unproven, but have the potential to complete what could be a staunch group. If they can stay healthy and perform well, it will not only do wonders for the running game, but it will also help to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright.

3. Will the defense get to the quarterback and create turnovers?

There has been a sack and turnover drought in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons, and that has to change in order for the Steelers to win more than eight games. Worilds, Woodley, and Jones have to get to the quarterback frequently to force fumbles and interceptions. The secondary also has to do a better job of making picks when opportunities present themselves. Dick LeBeau, as he did last year, emphasized turnovers in mini-camps and OTAs because he knows that the Steelers cannot make a run without them.

2. Can Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy and can the Steelers avoid the spate of injuries from the past two seasons?

Big Ben is the key to the Steelers success, and if he goes down, so do the team’s chances. He has to stay healthy, but history has shown that doing so is difficult, hence the emphasis on the running game and quickly getting rid of the ball in the Haley offense. It is not just important for Roethlisberger to stay health though; the entire team must stay out of the training room. Had the Steelers not have experienced the injuries that they did last season, they may have won more games. If they want to win more than eight games this season, they absolutely must avoid major injuries.

1. Are the Steelers still relevant, or are they the third best team in the AFC North?

The Baltimore Ravens are coming off of a Super Bowl victory, while the Bengals are riding high after two consecutive playoff appearances. Popular thinking has it that the Steelers are the third best team in the AFC North, including Steelers great Jerome Bettis. Despite pockets of writers that believe that the Steelers will rebound this season, the majority see the Steelers as a team on the decline, incapable of challenging for a title. Is this belief true and is the run over in Pittsburgh? Or was 2012 an anomaly? Steelers Nation is dying to find out.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    The Steelers have to hope that some guys take steps forward which leads to improvement and a playoff seeding. I think MOST analysts look at the record and don’t put it into context.

    First, we beat Baltimore with Charlie Batch starting, so this team has talent regardless of perception that Ben is the entire offense. That victory was with one of the worse running games in the NFL. It basically covers 3 areas of the questions above….Bell’s impact, OLine, and Ben’s health.

    Second, I think many forget that if you reverse the outcomes of just 2 games, the games Ben threw INTs which led to last 2nd winning FGs, this team ties the Bengals in record and MAKES the playoffs last year at 10-6. Yep, we would have made it and the Bengals would have gone home.

  • Paul

    I love those questions but I’m afraid to see the answers

  • Randy Neff

    Jeremy did a nice job of covering all the big points. One that I will add is, “Will the ST’s units be a major strength this year?” Getting takeaways and taking returns to the house would be a big plus. Winning the turnover battle and special teams each game is sometimes all that’s needed to come away with a victory.

  • Shea Fahr

    Special Teams play is a big one in my mind as well.

  • Dom

    Also add to that the fact we should easily have beaten Titans, Jets + Browns.

  • grw1960

    Another question.
    Will Sanders body be able to stand up to the increased playing time he will see this season. And will the Steelers keep an extra WR on the roster because they wonder the same thing.

  • charles

    The question that would best aid in the Steelers return to dominance is 3. Turnovers and relentless pressure. Let Ben handle the rest. This article hit a home run though. One thing that might be considered is to have Dunn or Howling pass blocking where they just slow done a Terrell Suggs and then Ben hits them with a short pass. I think Dunn could have better results than Desmond Howard did if we plan on getting him the ball this way at least 4 times a game and I think that Haley thinks this way too, the question is does Ben?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    i think a lot of the questions are interwoven.Will the OL perform and can we put more pressure on the QB. Those are the keys. Keep it simple

  • Showboogie

    Don’t forget we blow the Raiders game too

  • alex

    while the players still have to play the game plan, titan, raider, brown fails, smell like coaching prep issues…

    anyway, bring on the great equalizer, bring on 2013!

    oh, and since 2001, weve been 2 years in and 1 year out of the playoffs…

  • woundedvet

    I dont worry about our defense, as long as we have Mr. LeBeau. A big question is will our offense be prepared because the 2nd half of last season our offense appeared not coordinated & Haley is not a proven coordinator like LeBeau is.

  • Brendon Glad

    11&12: Can the Steelers Special teams get the “number of game-killing plays” under 4…and can the special-teams actually get the “number of game-saving plays” above zero? THAT would be nice, if the answers to both of those questions were “yes”

  • Reader783

    #11: Can we please not lose a fluke game? That’s more of a request/plea than a question.

  • Luke Shabro

    Expectations for us are low. The black and gold will rise up. In all honesty I’ve been a fan of the Steelers since I was about 10 years old when Slash, the Bus, Jason Gildon and Yancy were all starring. As long as I’ve been a fan (about 18 years), the Steelers have gone through ebbs and flows. Playoff “droughts” are never long. Honestly I’d be surprised if we weren’t at least a wild card this year. I except the Bengals to go back to being the Bungles. Everyone loves their uber talented roster. You know who else had a hugely talented roster? The San Diego Chargers from about 2005-2010. You know what they did? Not a thing. Even if we can squeeze into the wild card spot. By next year, hopefully our rookies will be more experienced and ready and we can make a real run. Just my opinion

  • westcoasteeler

    In addition to #2- How will the relationship btw Haley and BB continue to develop. LeBeau/Tomlin have the defense. Haley has Ben. Or will Ben have Haley?