GIVE AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE
Can Heath return in time to impact a Playoff run? For me, this is by far more critical than making up any deficit from not having Mike Wallace around. The latest reports on his injury progress from
OTAs and the Steelers inner circle are a lot more promising than what we were hearing only a month ago. Heath Miller’s successful return is absolutely critical, but I don’t want to see him rushed back to soon, either – coming back to full strength and health is much more important long-term to the season (and to his career) than just being able to pencil him in on the starting lineup roster card. The Receiving Corps as a group has a lot of work to do as well; good thing all of these guys are known to be hard workers then, right? We need to run decisive, timely routes with a show of good hands; make plays, and extend those plays. We know what we have in Antonio Brown, so for the remaining OTAs we need to ensure Sanders returns to the potential we saw his initial season (and with contract negotiation discussions underway for a long term deal, Management seems to think he will). Markus Wheaton, David Paulson, Jerricho Cotchery and Justin Brown will primarily be the ones to watch (if not Plaxico Burress and his new high-end line of men’s hosiery). This group needs to align themselves quickly and thoroughly with Todd Haley’s Playbook and with their Big Time Quarterback, Big Ben.
D’ING UP THE D-LINE
Borrowing from Queen & David Bowie’s collaborative “Under Pressure“, the Steelers desperately need to reassert themselves on the Defensive Line, by putting up some
pressure off the End and stuffing up the Middle. OTAs and Training Camp will need a high degree of concentration here as well: assuming Keisel’s beard can remain healthy and continue his aggressive style (as well as being a counted On the Field and locker room leader), what we are really looking for here is a return on our 1st Round Draft Picks. Will Ziggy Hood please stand up? Cameron Heyward needs to see the field; his potential is a relative unknown and does no good sitting on the sidelines, so it’s time for him to force the Coaches to make some decisions about getting him out there hitting people. Al Woods is an interesting piece, and Nick Williams needs to be Coached up onto the depth chart. Is McLendon adequate in the middle? I think he is, but we need confirmation from the work put in from him, and this entire group, the rest of May and early June.
LINEBACKING: THE TRADTION CONTINUES
As a unit, the Steelers Linebacker corps remains one of the best in the business, but amidst some unflattering remarks about the belly of LaMarr Woodley and losing the destructive dominance of a James Harrison, we may have temporarily and unjustly lost sight of the real emergence of Lawrence Timmons. ”LT” has really become a thumper out there, folks; his speed and play making coupled with what appears to be an increasing knowledge
and comprehensive grasp of the defensive game have Timmons looking the part of what we expect out of our Linebacker tradition in Pittsburgh. What we need to see in OTAs through Camp is a well-conditioned and healthy (hamstring) Woodley; Worilds showing the World he’s a bona-fide Starter; Jarvis Jones gaining LeBeau’s confidence early enough to get him on the field; and we need to solidify our depth chart behind Foote in particular. The Sean Spence situation is still gut-wrenching to me – I appreciate the Steeler’s confidence in the potential for his recovery and return in 2014 and while even that looks bleak, let’s continue to pull for Sean for Sean’s sake. Chart battles in OTAs behind this group are amongst Stevenson Sylvestor, Chris Carter, Brian Rolle, Kion Wilson, Adrian Robinson, Vince Williams, Marshall McFadden and Brandon Johnson. Yeah, I know it’s an obvious and a given thing to say, but still… cannot wait to see what Jarvis Jones can do!
WORKING THE CORNER WITH A SAFETY NET
Personally, my favorite selection from this year’s Draft Class was Shamarko Thomas; needing a quality Safety to rotate in to spell Polamalu (no, we are not even going to jinx ourselves with any injury talk here) and Clark that
has potential to be groomed as an eventual Starter (as TP and Clark are 11 and 12 years in the League, respectively), Thomas seems to fit both bills nicely. Given Coach Lake’s high remarks on Terry Hawthorne, it is very disappointing (and somewhat concerning) to find him already on crutches with bone spurs around the knee having been removed. We know our Starters in our Top Ranked Secondary (I’m including Cortez Allen’s promotion here), so OTAs will be all about working out our Depth Chart with a bevy of players that could easily be developed by the masterful Carnell Lake, situational configurations around our Nickel package and how best to make use of William Gay and Cortez Allen’s size advantage.
COACHING THE STANDARD
I said this last year, but Mike Tomlin and our Coaching Staff need to be held to some really high standards; Mike’s “the Standard is the Standard” applies to the Coaches, too. I still think Todd Haley is
going to end up being a god-send; Dick LeBeau still commutes #1 Defenses year-in, year-out; Carnell Lake is one of the best Secondary Coaches in the League, if not the best. What we need to see from the Coaching corral in the remaining OTAs is clear, concise communication towards execution from Jack Bicknell on the Offensive Line, Richard Mann producing indefensible Receivers that secure completions and making Special Teams an A #1 priority by Danny Smith.
OTAs for the Pittsburgh Steelers continue May 28-30 and June 3-6, with Minicamp: June 11-13. Here We Go, Steelers!