Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Steelers Training Camp: 10 Days, 10 Takeaways (Offense)


Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never shied away from the fact that he loves Training Camp set the tone with his favorite drill—backs on backers—in addition to the offensive linemen battling the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills.

Despite being "football in shorts", the Steelers made a positive first impression as they came out a focused, but relaxed, team that is poised to bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 record last season.

They then got into pads and the cracks could be heard all the way in Allentown. Tomlin has actually been praised for the physicality of his 2013 Training Camp. Why has it been so physical?

"It’s just appropriate in today’s NFL. We have off days. We only get a chance to practice once a day," Tomlin declared. "There are fewer and fewer opportunities to sort themselves out. We’ve got some young guys. We’ve got to sort through a lot of young guys and we’ve got to take advantage of opportunities to show improvement. That is what it is about."

Add practices running nearly two-and-a-half hours to live contact drills and you have the tone set for a physical season. What else are we seeing as tones being set? And what players play important roles? Part one focused on the defense, and here we'll discuss the offense.

Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben has been taking on much more of a leadership role this offseason and Training Camp. He's had great practices, aside from a couple of interceptions, last Thursday through Monday. He seems so much more serious with teammates and their roles, their routes, their blocks, etc... Basically, he sees his window and doesn't want it to close. If It Ain't Steel is glad to see Big Ben is stepping up as a true leader.

In doing so he is being rewarded with a couple of things that he has been wanting in the form of more deep routes. After some tinkering to the offense, Big Ben is much happier as he is able to air the ball out often. Both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have been getting plenty of looks and the passes have been very successful so far. As has someone else.

Markus Wheaton: Wheaton missed OTAs because of NCAA graduation rules, so he came into Training Camp already behind. He has quickly caught up and moved up the depth chart, though, and got time as the slot receiver during the first week of camp.

A terrific route-runner, Wheaton has the speed and quickness to get deep to make the big play, and he has shown it by being very dangerous all over the field.

As long as his development continues, it won’t be very long until Wheaton is a regular on offense.

Le’Veon Bell: Bell has had a terrific Camp so far, and it should not be very long before he is a major part of the offense. He has been the star of the backfield so far, and is making a real push for the starting job.

He also has exceptional hands and has been one of the focal points of the passing game. He continually makes plays in the open field.

His bread and butter will be carrying the rock. And though he doesn't possess world-class speed, he has been running with speed and authority and has been the best back during team drills. He has even been receiving time with the first team offense. Bell is light on his feet and is able to get to the outside and cut back also.

Speaking of getting outside and cutting back, the outside zone-blocking scheme has been a focus under new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, jr. They've run it all Camp in some form and the players are adjusting well to it. Plus, athletic offensive linemen like Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, make it more viable scheme.

The other starting OLinemen, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, also have a bit of a competition going on. According to WDVE’s Mike Prisuta, Adams lined up at left tackle for three days straight. But, since the Steelers run to the right more often than any other direction, they'll most likely move Adams back to that side knowing that he is the better run blocker.

That does bring us nicely to the next point into the light also, that being the lack of depth. Kelvin Beachum may play three positions Saturday night against the New York Giants, and guard Justin Cheadle figures to get time against the Giants also. That's pretty much it. The injuries have brought that to light better than anything.

While there haven't been any significant injuries to star players, there have been several dinged up.

The most significant injury was to Cortez Allen who had minor knee surgery last week. Another semi-major injury occured when Nik Embernate went down with a torn ACL and MCL.

Then you have DeMarcus Van Dyke and Terry Hawthorne have both missed time, and Curtis Brown is on crutches, making for a very thin secondary.

Embernate reminds us how fragile the front line is. Who'll back up Gilbert? What happens if Beachum goes down? D'Anthony Batiste nor Guy Whimper will remind anyone of Jonathan Ogden or even Jonathan Scott. It is, therefore, an issue that needs to be resolved.

Soon.

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TIDBITS: Matt Spaeth, who came back to the Steelers from the Chicago Bears this last offseason, was hurt in Wednesday’s practice in Latrobe. He was seen later with ice taped to his foot.

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Via Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola, @BobLabriola on Twitter, "2 roster moves. ‪#‎Steelers‬ signed RB Alvester Alexander & CB Devin Smith; waived RB Curtis McNeal & DE Cordian Hagans."