My son is entering the sixth grade this fall and, with that, my Cub Scout becomes a Boy Scout. This transformation means he gets to go away to summer camp for the first time. The packing list is extensive, as he needs clothing choices and changes for all sorts of camping conditions, plus tick spray and a positive scouting attitude.
He starts his camp the very day the Pittsburgh Steelers begin theirs at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. After reading our own packing list, I thought about the things Mike Tomlin’s troops might bring along to their camp which could enhance their prospects for hoisting the Lombardi a record seventh time at season’s end.
Here’s the list:
A hell-bent James Conner
While we don’t really know the future of the man Conner plays behind, reports from the OTA and offseason workouts have been favorable regarding the second-year man from Pitt. If James Conner comes into camp and goes all-out to shine, while temporarily sitting atop the depth chart, he could stake his claim as having the potential to be the team’s future.
A healthy Vance McDonald
The San Francisco 49ers chose the Tight End from Rice University for a specific reason, he’s a pass-catching talent. But they traded him for a reason too — his production with a suspect supporting cast was only so-so. But his play since being paired with a HOF-caliber QB, plus a solid culture in Pittsburgh, seemed quite promising — at least when he was at full-strength health-wise. In his most recent appearance, McDonald showed that capability by garnering 10 catches for 112 yards in the playoffs versus Jacksonville. No. 89 could be a major factor in strengthening a contender into a champion — if he starts a full 16 games.
Another veteran Inside Linebacker
Meaning no disrespect for Tyler Matakevich, Jon Bostic and L.J. Fort, but the Steelers need a more polished presence at the Mike LB position. The chasm left by Ryan Shazier’s injury was evident when the Steelers gave up an average of 133 rushing yards in the five games following his December 4th career-threatening injury. Bostic and Dirty Red will put heart and effort into their opportunities. Rookie safeties Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen are working out at ILB as well. But a guy like NaVorro Bowman could certainly help bridge this sizable gap.
An improved Bud Dupree
At this point, majority of Steelers Nation likens the early career of Bud Dupree to that of Jarvis Jones’. Although his production of 14.5 sacks over three years isn’t terrible, more was expected from No. 48 as a top draft pick. Dupree, whose pass-rushing has been criticized as being a half-step too slow, worked with pass-rushing clinician Chuck Smith and All-Pro Von Miller this offseason. While the reviews have been very promising, we shouldn’t forget that they were last year as well. This is a make-or-break year for Dupree in a Pittsburgh uniform. His positional swap with T.J. Watt, moving to the blind side, will be instrumental in the telling of Bud’s tale. All parties need Alvin to respond.
A mature and ready-to-roll rookie class
Early reviews have been promising for guys like Terrell Edmunds, James Washington, Mason Rudolph, Chukwuma Okorafor, Jaylen Samuels, Marcus Allen and Joshua Frazier. The Steelers drafted high-character guys in 2018. The best case for Rudolph, Okorafor and Frazier is for them to get valuable reps in practice but not see a whole lot of game action this year. As for or the rest of these players, they’ll be counted on to contribute significantly in their inaugural Pittsburgh season. It seems like the maturity level is substantial with this group, but events could dictate the need for them to play like seasoned veterans early on.
An enlightened and early-arriving Le’Veon Bell
No. 26 knows the importance of being in Latrobe from the start. While it seems like almost a certainty that Bell won’t report until Week 1, everybody in Pittsburgh would benefit from Bell swallowing some pride and not waiting for the Week 1 September meeting with the Browns to knock off the rust.
There you have it! Good luck summer-campers big and small. Don’t forget the essentials and, by all means, remember that positive scouting attitude.