As I see it, the two biggest concerns the Steelers have heading into training camp [editor's note, by Blitzburgh:besides replacing Randle-El who's impossible to 'replace' because of his unique talents] are replacing Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen, both lost to free agency. Not only were both great football players, they seemed to both serve substantial leadership roles as well. Polamalu remember was extremely upset at the departure of Hope.
Free Safety - Replacing Hope: This battle is going to be interesting. Ryan Clark, a 5th year DB out of LSU, signed with the Steelers this offseason. He spent his first two years with the Giants, and the last two in Washington. Clark is good, but he's not Chris Hope. Hope tallied 97 tackles in 2005 compared to Clark's 57. Hope's impressive 2005 season elevated his value on the open-market, and the Steelers simply weren't willing to pay the $4 million+ Hope was looking for. Clark did pick off 3 balls and force two fumbles in 2005, and I think the ability to create turnovers is going to play an integral role (as always) in the Steelers' success.Anthony Smith, the 3rd round pick from Syracuse, will compete with Clark for the spot. Smith is a highly regarded prospect, and will undoubtedly see the field plenty in 2006, but the Steelers typically do not start rookies. In the short run, Clark's got the edge, but Smith will eventually wrangle the job from Clark, if not this year, than the next. Edge to start Week 1: Ryan Clark
Defensive End - Replacing Kimo: The loss of Kimo von Oelhoffen hurts, but does not sting. Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton are the mainstays of the line, and both are healthy and ready to help the Steelers repeat. In my mind, Brett Keisel is ready to accept a bigger role. Keisel will be in his fifth season and has only played 34 professional games, but he showed signs of promise late last season. His two big sacks in the AFC Championship game against Denver were huge. In the Steelers 3-4 scheme, Keisel won't be asked to rush the passer. Instead, he'll be focused primarily on stopping the run, something he's better suited at anyways at his size (6'5", 285 lbs). Keisel is a cheap alternative financially. He was a 7th rounder in 2002 and will cost far less than Kimo would have in 2006. More money to lock up Troy and Ben in the forthcoming years. The main challanger for the job is Rodney Bailey, a recent pickup from the Seahawks. Shuan Nua and Travis Kirschke will try to find a way to contribute in 2006, but barring injury, this job is Keisel's to lose. Edge to start Week 1: Brett KeiselWhat other positional battles do you think are important to settle this preseason?