It’s not quite training camp, not quite the start of preseason and definitely not the start of the regular season but the 2012-13 Steelers assembled together for the first time for workouts this week. The Steelers spent the past 3 days working out together at the South Side facilities, learning the language of the new Haley offense, learning the names of the new guys (the ones that can be there), and learning who might step up in the leadership roles left vacant by the likes of Farrior, Smith, and Ward. Clearly Steeler Nation has been starved for anything resembling football because we all ate up every minute of a relatively unimportant set of practices just to satisfy our junkie itch for the time being.
A big part of the stories coming out of OTAs were who was there and who wasn’t there. The obvious one (and I’m not going to beat the dead horse anymore) was Mike Wallace, but also not present for OTAs were Mike Adams and David DeCastro (school), and some players like Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel attended later in the week. Showing up at OTAs for the first time in many seasons was Troy Polamalu, who usually prepares for the upcoming season in California and only comes to Pittsburgh for the start of training camp. There’s no hiding the fact that the Steelers defense lost some key leadership this offseason. Not necessarily players who had the most playing time, but definitely players that held a presence in the locker room and on the sidelines. I think it’s a very good sign that Polamalu, one of the most recognizable players in the NFL, is taking on an active role in the leadership of the team. The leadership that was lost will definitely impact the team in some way, not necessarily on the field as those players saw very limited minutes for one reason or another the past few seasons.
As the new offense shapes up under brand spankin new OC Todd Haley, Ben got a sort of “day off” on Thursday to review the playbook and chat with the coaches. The changes to the offense are already coming to light with the naming of David Johnson as a fullback, the realignment of the offensive line in attempt to keep Ben out of the trainer’s room, and an increased commitment to the running game primarily featuring Isaac Redman. Rashard Mendenhall, recovering from ACL surgery, has been running during practices but not participating in drills. He hinted at the idea that he could be ready as soon as Week 1, but all those that know about ACL surgeries are pretty doubtful of that. The team is clearly preparing to move forward without Mendy, and seemingly answering every wish and prayer every yinzer has had the past few years. A recommitment to the running game to enhance the play-action, a full-time full back, and better protection for Ben, are we dreaming? Granted this is only OTAs and these ideals will need some time to be worked out, especially with adding 2 rookies to the OL and a whole new scheme to the offense, but geez this is sounding pretty good so far!
On the other side of the ball the competition started at the left cornerback position opposite Ike Taylor. With the departure of Willie Gay and Bryant McFadden, the door has opened for Keenan Lewis to step in to try and earn his first starting job in the NFL. Lewis predicted he would make the Pro Bowl this week, a pretty bold statement considering the Steelers last Pro Bowl corner was Rod Woodson. But Lewis has to worry about Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown contending for that same starting job before the Pro Bowl ballots are even printed up. I’ve said before that I was a big fan of the hiring of Carnell Lake as the secondary coach, and I only see better things in the future for him and the Steelers secondary. Of course, the secondary has probably the worst taste left in their mouths from how the season ended in Denver just a few months ago.
So with one week of OTAs in the books Steeler Nation has a lot to look forward too. There will be 2 more weeks with OTAs as well as a minicamp before another break in action and then the team will head to Latrobe in August. No doubt Steeler Nation will be glued to every move this team makes in the mean time, we’d even tune in if they were all standing around tossing a bean bag around.
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