The trendy topic to cover on the Monday before training camp begins (Thursday, July 26) is something about the main questions surrounding the Steelers.
Questions surround any great and grand initiative, like preparing a team to succeed in a game like football. For a team coming off a 12-4 season but with an upset playoff loss, the first question is one of its general direction;
Is this team growing or dying?
Some conventional logic suggests a transition year follows several transitional decisions. The decision to change out offensive coordinators, the decision to move on from multiple veterans, both transitional in nature, but serve to mask general stability (otherwise the same coaching staff is intact, still returning several key starters including the entire secondary).
While that transition may impact aggressive short-term gains, it needs the room to breathe in order to grow, and the breath of fresh air those transitional decisions provide give this team a much better chance of growing than if the same team from 2011 trotted onto the fields at Latrobe on Thursday.
Will the running game be about the player or the scheme?
How good is RB Rashard Mendenhall? How good is Isaac Redman? Will offensive coordinator Todd Haley get all the credit if the Steelers go off for 500 rushing yards in their first three games, or will it be the stockpiled talent the front office has been finding since the end of the Jerome Bettis Era?
There are probably 15 questions just from this group alone. Maybe it's the easy way out, but it's both the player and the scheme. It's a lot of players contributing to a wide-reaching scheme. More than anything, it's an attitude. It's 2nd-and-2, and they line up in a power formation. They obviously need to execute, but the mindset that they're the biggest badasses on the field must exist. That starts in camp and has less to do with talent as it does with confidence.
Will the low sack numbers and turnovers continue?
Just at a glance, it seems the low amount of turnovers forced (15) and sacks (35) will not result in the league's top scoring defense very often. Just viewing it from that perspective, it seems those numbers will have to improve if the Steelers' defense wants to continue to remain one of the league's best.
A healthy LaMarr Woodley and a healthy and unsuspended James Harrison should help both of those numbers increase, just simply by a more consistent pass rush. However, it's still a big camp for players like Jason Worilds, who are expected to provide some boom off the edge in spot duty.
Was that defensive ranking caused more by the schedule?
It's no longer Curtis Painter/Kerry Collins, Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb (with a shade of Tom Brady). It's Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Phillip Rivers. Granted, those are hand-selected examples done for dramatic example, but the offenses the Steelers will face in 2012 are better than those from 2011. At least from what we see on paper.
For the naysayers, simply point out the difficulty of the Steelers' schedule in 2008, and how that season ended. To the homers, it's worthy of mentioning that while iron sharpens iron, expecting a team to rise (and fall) to the level of its competition isn't exactly a recipe for success.
When in doubt, trust in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.