It seems like yesterday the players were unpacking their bags, carrying televisions and strange training contraptions into their dorm rooms, and of course, Antonio Brown rolling up in a Rolls Royce just to make a statement. In the blink of an eye, the team's 50th trip to the sacred grounds of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA have come to an end. The Pittsburgh Steelers packed up and headed back to their South Side practice facility, but as they leave camp, do they return with any answers to some of the questions which surrounded the team before camp started? Let's take a look:
Will the team's secondary be improved in 2015?
There is a chance the Steelers secondary will be improved, but if it does get better it could be based upon the acquisition of former Philadelphia Eagles CB Brandon Boykin. After all, the team's second round draft pick Senquez Golson, who was expected to bolster a weakness on the team's roster, will miss the majority of the 2015 season, if not all of it, with a shoulder injury. The team will look to a depth chart consisting of William Gay, Cortez Allen, Boykin and Antwon Blake to be their primary cornerbacks heading into 2015. Not necessarily a shut down group of defensive backs, but take Boykin out of the equation and it could be even worse.
Has the defense found a consistent pass rush to aide the secondary?
New defensive coordinator Keith Butler certainly has mixed things up heading into the 2015 season. Butler has toyed with several different defensive fronts (base 3-4, 4-3, nickel, jumbo) and is trying to find out what works in specific situations. However, through two preseason games the pass rush has been limited at best. As the starting defense gets more repetitions in upcoming preseason games, players like Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats will be expected to get pressure on the quarterback.
The offense has taken a step forward and has plans in place for Le'Veon's absense
In the limited time the Steelers' starting offense has been on the field this preseason, they have proven they certainly haven't regressed from their 2014 form. However, the plan in place for Le'Veon Bell's absence isn't necessarily tried and true. DeAngelo Williams has shown a burst in his limited action in the preseason, but behind Williams is where the true question lies for the Steelers plans when Bell misses the first two games of 2015. Josh Harris and Dri Archer were to combine for the depth at running back, but a foot injury has Harris' spot on the team's 53-man roster in doubt. There is still time, but the Steelers offense looks poised to dominate, if they can figure out their situation for their first two games without Bell.
Can Thomas be a capable replacement for Troy Polamalu?
Shamarko Thomas is in the difficult position of trying to replace a legend. When he was tabbed with an injury-prone label throughout this first seasons with the team, the fact he missed much of training camp with a shoulder injury didn't help change such a label, and it didn't help him get acclimated to life in the defensive secondary on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Thomas is healthy now, but it took a while for his safety partner, Mike Mitchell, to join in him on the field. The expected starting safety tandem of Mitchell and Thomas is finally preparing to play in their first action together on Sunday, and their results could be significant for the Steelers defense in 2015, after a rough start last week vs. the Jaguars for Thomas.
Any rookies able to contribute?
The Steelers 2015 rookie class was highly touted, but the results to date have been less than stellar. Bud Dupree has shown the learning curve from college to the NFL to be a steep one, Golson could be out for the year after having shoulder surgery, Sammie Coates looks to finally be getting his feet underneath him as a professional, Doran Grant will bolster the team's secondary in terms of special teams and depth, Jesse James has struggled through camp holding onto the football, L.T. Walton has gotten some looks and might be able to make the team, Anthony Chickillo surprised many people at the onset of camp and Gerod Holliman has yet to make any type of impression which resembles a 14 interception season last year in college.
Nonetheless, the Steelers rookies are contributing, but their ability to contribute on the big stage of the regular season has yet to be seen. The rookies will certainly be given every opportunity to prove their worth in the final weeks of the preseason.
After a training camp riddled with nagging injuries and released players, the Steelers return to Pittsburgh to finish the 2015 preseason, and prepare themselves for the regular season. Those burning questions might still linger, but there is still time to find some answers, before the game start to matter.