The Pittsburgh Steelers have not wrapped up their 2014 offseason program and while not a lot of stock can be put into practices that include players only wearing helmets and shorts, there quite a few positive things to take away from the four weeks of work.
Here are six main positives to come out of the offseason practices.
No Serious Injuries: I can’t remember an offseason where the Steelers came through the practices as healthy as they are right now. Sure, starting outside linebacker Jason Worilds missed quite a bit of practice time with a calf injury of some sorts, but even he was able to get some work in during minicamp. As for inside linebacker Sean Spence, it appears as though he will be able to work in training camp without any limitations. That’s amazing considering how the prognosis for him wasn’t looking too good because of the nerve damage that he suffered in his knee. While we haven’t heard too much about him this offseason, it also appears as though second-year defensive end Nick Williams will be a go for training camp as well. On top of everything else, center Maurkice Pouncey was able to practice fully during most of the practices without suffering any setbacks to his surgically repaired knee. Is it possible that training camp opens without any players needing to be listed on the Active PUP list? We’ll see, but signs are definitely pointing to that possibility.
Great Attendance: Outside of safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor was really the only other starter to miss more than a few OTA practices. Polamalu missing is nothing new, but both he and Taylor were both present for the final minicamp, which of course was mandatory. Rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt was unable to attend the OTA practices due to UCLA being on the quarter system, but like Polamalu and Taylor, he was able to attend the final minicamp. He’s behind, but because he’s not expected to even play on defense in 2014, it’s not a big deal.
Contracts Galore: Thanks to the new CBA, rookie contracts get done without any issues thanks to the slotting system. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt signed his deal this past week and now, with over a month to go until the start of training camp, the entire 2014 draft class is under contract. The draft picks weren’t the only ones to sign on the dotted line over the course of the offseason practices, however, as Pouncey signed a five-year extension just last week. Pouncey’s new deal actually lowered his 2014 cap charge and only $14 million of it is guaranteed.
Shazier Starting: First-round draft pick Ryan Shazier not only hit the ground running during the offseason practices, he was running as the starter alongside Lawrence Timmons. Baring something totally unforeseen, Shazier will be the Steelers first defensive rookie to open a season as a starter since Kendrell Bell last accomplished the feat back in 2001. Shazier certainly has his share of mistakes that he will make ahead of him, but at least the coaching staff has let him and the rest of the defense know right from the start where things stand. The Ohio State product will enter training camp with a ton of valuable reps underneath his belt and presumably a somewhat good understanding of the defense and associated concepts.
No Huddle In A Hurry: To hear quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talk, the offense was able to work quite a bit on the no-huddle over the course of the last four weeks. With newcomers Lance Moore, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer and Martavis Bryant now in the fold, all of that extra work on the no-huddle will set a good foundation for training camp.
No Drama: Sure, there’s been talk about whether or not Roethlisberger will get an extension this offseason, but the quarterback has been good about deflecting those questions and keeping the focus off of him and on team instead. No players had any legal issues and thankfully the Mike Adams stabbing trial was over well before the OTA practices got underway. Overall, it has been a drama-free four weeks of practice with the entire focus being centered around what happened on the field, not off of it.
Overall, I cant see how things could have gone any better for the Steelers this offseason and that includes everything that has happened since the start of the new league year. This team is far from being a considered a finish product that’s ready to start the season, but a solid foundation has been laid over the course of the last four weeks that can easily built upon when the team arrives at Latrobe for training camp. Head coach Mike Tomlin has to be pleased.