Thursday, August 22, 2013

Six Takeaways From Camp, Games As Steelers Prepare For Chiefs' Dress Rehearsal

Another Training Camp at St. Vincent College came to a close Saturday, and the second preseason game is in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They spent over two weeks together at Camp looking to set the foundation for the 2013 season. They have also played two exhibition games in which they didn't exactly look like February 2nd participants.

The integration of the rookies and young players hasn't exactly gone as one would hope, the offense appears pedestrian at best and there is a precipitous drop off in experience and talent once the starters leave the field on both the offensive line and on defense. 

Fielding a team of healthy starters and mixing in the youth on the team will take time. In fact, it may take more than preseason for all to gel, especially with the team dealing with such transition. 

That said, there are elements that were either positive points, or points to focus on in the next game against the Kansas City Chiefs. What were they and what are the things to look to?

Head Coach Mike Tomlin went in to camp needing to find out about his team. The 2013 camp was touted as the most physical camp since the Chuck Noll era. Tomlin set the tone early by having live tackling drills with pads whenever possible. The drills helped give the coaches a better barometer of the players and helped establish an attitude in the RUNNING GAME.

Le'Veon Bell’s injury was "clarified" Thursday at Tomlin's press conference. NFL.com's Albert Breer quoted him as saying on his Twitter (@AlbertBreer) account: "Good news, tho still a problematic injury. RT @steelers @L_Bell26 has a mid-foot sprain, will not need surgery to repair it. - @CoachTomlin."

"Problematic" is right, because the injury could involve a brief rehabilitation, or it could be as injury expert and media contributor Dr. Ray Solano, who is familiar with Bell's situation, tweeted.

In comes the solid play of Jonathan Dwyer in Bell's absence. Dwyer's acquitting himself as well as he did is very significant. Now that Bell is sidelined for some time, Dwyer will get his shot at not only a roster spot, but at moving up on the depth chart as well. It may even force the Steelers to keep an fifth running back or to cut someone else in his stead as both Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling seem to be destined to make the roster.

Hopefully, OFFENSIVE LINE coach Jack Bicknell, jr. lit into his linemen this week, because they all looked terrible. Save maybe Ramon Foster, the starters all committed an infraction of some sort, and their backups weren't any better. Guy Whimper was particularly atrocious. 

While Bicknell's zone-blocking scheme seems to be a hit with the players, we need to see if it’s a hit in a game. We also need to see who the capable backups are. Kelvin Beachum is the first lineman off of the bench and will sub for multiple spots. After Beachum, though, nothing is clear. That needs to be settled Saturday night. 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER and TODD HALEY are now on the same page. And according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Big Ben is getting more needed flexibilities and freedoms within the offense. Such trust between coach and player early on can only help later on. - http://tinyurl.com/kvcdfhs

The Steelers players as a whole seem to have a better understanding of the offense and Todd Haley seems to have a better understanding of his players. Now, we simply need to see that new harmony pay dividends for the Steelers offense.

The Steelers are fine at WIDE RECEIVER even with the season-ending injury to Plaxico Burress. The Steelers have Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton

The obvious rising star is Wheaton, and draft pick Justin Brown seems to be the fifth WR, but the Steelers have an interesting battle going on between Derek Moye and undrafted free agent rookies J.D. Woods and Reggie Dunn. If It Ain't Steel's thoughts on who makes the roster to come. Nonetheless, watch this battle Saturday night. 

The TIGHT END position is a curious one to decipher at present with both Heath Miller and David Johnson now off of the PUP list and Matt Spaeth still out for the next 7-9 weeks. With Johnson returning to practice for the first time on Wednesday, it has yet to be seen if he will push the healthy tight ends on the roster. Namely David Paulson (who lacks real blocking ability), Jamie McCoy (who is playing H-back), and blocking TE Michael Palmer. - http://tinyurl.com/lxzqeaf

Players to look for to get EXTENDED PLAYING TIME to evaluate is the next thing to focus on considering that during his press conference today, Tomlin confirmed he intended to play starters for at least a half, and play the rest 'by ear'. - http://tinyurl.com/mm9hzd3

Aside from J.D. Woods mentioned earlier, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Shamarko Thomas have had good camps and good games. Safety Robert Golden looks to be a ballhawk and capable back up, defensive end Al Woods has really looked good at both end and nose tackle. Coaches and players both have raved about his play. Nicholas Williams, Vince Williams and Marshall McFadden are to be looked at closely as well. Lastly, going into the 3rd preseason game, Hebron Fangupo has a slight edge over Alameda Ta'amu at nose tackle. So, keep an eye on that position as well.

Looking backward at the performance last Monday night helps us to look forward to Kansas City. In doing so, we will find out if the coaches are making sure the standard remains the standard.