With the offense looking good and the defense in transition, OTAs provide a chance for players to learn the playbook, work on fundamentals, and experience some team cohesion before they put they start playing in pads. Here are some questions and answers (and questions and more questions) we learned during the past few weeks:
What did Keith Butler have to say about his brand of Steelers defense?
Keith Butler spoke to the media-- finally! Keith Butler waited a long time to be promoted to defensive coordinator and the wait seemed just as long for him to interact with the media. Butler holds the keys to the defense right now. The unit is struggling with personnel issues and many are optimistic that Butler's brand of Steelers defense will be a good fit for veterans and inexperienced players alike. Via Steeers.com, Butler said, "(The defense) will be different. There are some things that we did well last year. What we've got to try is to marry what we did well last year with some things we haven't done before here."
Will this be a breakout year for Stephon Tuitt?
Though the defense has struggled the past few seasons, there is reason for optimism in Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Lawrence Timmons is also in the mix to shore up the front seven. According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cam Heyward said, "I expect a lot from Tuitt in 2015 because he's been in certain situations that most rookies don't get to be in... he definitely has a high ceiling." Tuitt has breakout potential this year which could certainly help the Steelers D regain some of its former glory.
Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review posted an encouraging observation from OTAs about Tuitt:
All you need to know about Stephon Tuitt is that he ran down Devin Gardner the other day ... 40 yards down the field.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) June 6, 2015
What's going on with Lawrence Timmons and Cam Heyward's contracts?
There was some discussion during OTAs about the contract situations of both Timmons and Heyward. Timmons is open to negotiating a deal that would enable him to retire a Steeler, while Heyward has got to be keeping an eye on recent contracts extended to other DEs around the league. Cameron Jordan of New Orleans recently signed a 5-year/ $55 million deal, and DE Corey Liuget of San Diego is said to be looking at a 5 year/ $50 million contract. Can the Steelers afford to keep both men? And, at what point will these deals go down?
Is Sammie Coates going to be any good?
It is hard to tell this early in the preseason, but judging by the amount of Coates-doing-drills clips Steelers.com showed during his post-practice interview, the team must be feeling pretty good about his speed and agility. The Steelers already have Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton at WR, but if Coates can take advantage of WR Coach Richard Mann's influence and input, then he, too, could develop into another phenom.
How strong are the Steelers looking?
A lot of news coming out of OTAs related to the fitness level of the players. Josh Harris is so fit looking that he has had two NFL drug tests in the past 90 days. The media and teammates alike continued to be in awe of James Harrison's workout regimen, as several players have benefited from working out with him at his fitness compound Arizona. There is no guarantee Alejandro Villanueva will make the team, but he has been packing the pounds onto his 6'9" frame, which could make him a powerhouse on the O-line (or, in my view, an attractive option at TE). Martavis Bryant reportedly gained ten pounds in the offseason, now weighing in at 225. Antonio Brown reportedly worked to put in muscle during the offseason which he debuted during OTAs as well.
Meanwhile, Daniel McCullers concentrated on his offseason fitness in the offseason, dropping around 15 pounds. D-line coach John Mitchell said via Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review, "I don't care how big you are, if you're not in shape and you can't do it, it's not OK." McCullers said, "I learned last year that it's a long season and you have to take care of your body."
There are two other parts in this series: