After a disappointing 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers hope to finish with a record above 8-8. The team was always known for being a very experienced, older, and slower team. However this year, the Steelers are among the youngest teams of the NFL. This is not an issue that the team has faced in years. The team showed signs of being able to overcome their recent struggles, however, the team also showed that inexperience may be the downfall to a 3rd consecutive season of missing the NFL playoffs.
I was on hand to watch the team at St. Vincent College on July 31st. The team began by splitting onto the three practice fields that St. Vincent College has to offer. The offense took drills on the far right field along with the linebackers. The middle field consisted of the Steeler’s secondary and the special teams squad. The far left field consisted only of the defensive line. While split into these groups, each group showed positive and negative signs.
The defensive line seemed very quick and got off the line faster than I expected. Roy Philon was one player that was very noticeable. 6’3 291 lbs., Philon moved as if he were like an outside linebacker. His speed at DT may be what the Steelers need after having Casey Hampton take up most of the defensive line for years. Another player that caught people’s attention was Cameron Heyward. After surprising Steeler fans last season, it would be likely that that trend will continue into the 2014 season. His speed and strength allowed him to move faster than any other lineman on the Steelers. This could be a positive sign for Steeler’s fans and reassuring that the Steelers will not have to completely rebuild their defensive line.
The special teams for the Steelers was very questionable. The Australian punter, Brad Wing, had positive points and negative points. A few of his punts covered a good amount of distance and would go 40+ yards. His accuracy was also very good as he tended to punt directly to his target or to the corner that he needed to. However, some of his punts would hardly go 20 yards in front of him. If Wing were to have more consistency in how far he kicks, he could be one of the best punters the Steelers have ever had. Shaun Suisham was another story. He showed his lack of strength in his leg again to Steelers’ fans and it would be very likely that while he is very consistent at short yardage field goals, he will never be a good long distance field goal kicker.
The Steelers’ secondary corp showed that while they have speed, they still continue to make pointless errors. They were making very strong cuts but would spontaneously drop passes thrown almost directly to them. Troy Polamalu was not exceptional in any way but still was among the best of the Steeler’s secondary at camp.
Linebackers have been among the highlights on the Pittsburgh Steelers for decades. This season may be the first season that it may not be so. While the linebacker squad didn’t look bad, they seemed to move slow in drills. Once the scrimmage started afterwards, they seemed to pick up the pace and played exceptionally well.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offence was by far the most interesting to watch. While Antonio Brown is in no danger of losing his starting position, that didn’t stop the other wide receivers from giving him a run. Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, and Danny Coale all showed signs of being reliable options for the Steelers. Darius Heyward-Bey however left practice with an injury early on and his status is unknown at the time. While the receivers looked like they will be a reliable option for Big Ben, his backup Bruce Gradkowski and the entire offensive line did not live up to expectations. Bruce Gradkowski tended to throw behind receivers on almost every throw. The offensive line also did not live up to par. They continued to miss blocks and got off the line slower than defensive lines like they have the past few seasons.
After the individuals squads finished up drills, they went on to have an hour scrimmage where the offense showed signs of having a no-huddle offense. While this would usually be an effective way to wear down the defense, the defense always seemed to have the upper hand on the offense. This was because of the play calls. When the team ran a passing play, the defense had a tough time stopping it. However when it was a running play, the defense usually stopped it behind the line of scrimmage.
The conclusion that I have made after this day of Steelers training camp is that while the team does look faster and stronger than they have the past few seasons, chemistry will eventually haunt the team and their young age will cost them in the end and the team will not have a record above .500 by the end of the season.