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As the Steelers begin another training camp, many questions need answered

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Some thoughts on the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is here, and there are plenty of questions swirling through my mind regarding the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers. So many that I thought I’d turn them into an article.

Is a base defense really a base defense if it’s used less than the sub packages?

It’s been said that the 3-4 defense is the Steelers’ base defense. But it’s also been said that Pittsburgh uses that particular defense way less frequently these days than it does the 4-2-5 or “nickel” defense. If the nickel defense, which employs a defensive back in place of a linebacker to combat a pass-heavy, modern NFL, is the more commonly utilized defense, isn’t this actually the new base defense? I get that “base” could also mean the defense a team starts a game with. But what if that team starts a lot of games in the nickel package?

Speaking of which, how come more people aren’t super-excited about the free-agent acquisition of safety Morgan Burnett?

When the Steelers signed former Packers safety Morgan Burnett this past spring, I was really excited and, quite frankly, kind of amazed. Burnett seemed to be one of the more desirable defensive free agents on the market, and to lock him up for three years just seemed like a really huge get. While Burnett is a strong safety by trade, he has been known to play corner and the inside linebacker spot in the aforementioned nickel defense. While at Green Bay, the veteran Burnett was also a valuable communicator on the defense, and if you remember 2017, communications seemed to be a huge problem for Keith Butler and his unit.

Why are people still calling for the Steelers to rebuild the defense?

When running back Le’Veon Bell starts officially taking up so much of the team’s cap space after he eventually signs his $14.5 million franchise tag, there will be nothing left to rebuild the defense with. Rebuild the defense? Cameron Heyward (first-round pick). Ryan Shazier (first-round pick). Bud Dupree (first-round pick). Artie Burns (first-round pick). T.J. Watt (first-round pick). Stephon Tuitt (second-round pick). Sean Davis (second-round pick). Javon Hargrave (third-round pick). I might have missed some folks, but that’s lot of young talent added in recent drafts — and that doesn’t even include 2018 first-round pick, safety Terrell Edmunds. Furthermore, what about the free-agent pickup of Joe Haden last year to go along with this year’s free-agent crop consisting of Burnett and inside linebacker Jon Bostic? How much more rebuilding can be done? I get that the loss of Shazier was a huge one (gigantic), but there seems to be more than enough talent and potential on the Steelers’ defense for it to be respectable to very good in 2018, provided some issues get worked out between now and the start of the season.

Speaking of Bell, has his name been officially changed to “POS?”

I ask that question because whenever the decorated back is discussed these days, he gets called that fairly frequently. Why is that? Is that his new rap name? Please enlighten me.

Will JuJu Smith-Schuster make that all-important first- to second-year leap in 2018?

If he does, look out! For all the cute stuff Smith-Schuster has been associated with since becoming a member of the Steelers, people seem to forget he’s one talented wide receiver. He can catch. He can block. He seems to run really decent routes. I realize he doesn’t have that seductive 4.2 speed but, after scoring touchdowns of 90-plus yards twice last year — once through the air and once on a kickoff return — his 4.5 speed may be good enough. Smith-Schuster has the makings of a really special receiver, and if he flirts with 60 receptions and 1,000 yards for the second year in a row, he might officially place himself in that category.

Speaking of receivers, can second-round pick James Washington step right in and be the No. 3 guy and a legit deep threat?

Everyone is expecting this of the rookie out of Oklahoma St. (including yours truly), and he darn-well better after Pittsburgh traded Martavis Bryant away.

Did the re-signing of slot receiver Eli Rogers on Wednesday make you feel better about the Steelers’ receiving corps as a whole?

It did? That makes two of us.

Will Vance McDonald be the tight end weapon many think he should be?

Who’s your potential X-factor for the Steelers’ offense in 2018? If you’re like everyone else, it’s obviously McDonald. He’s the sexy choice and, aside from Washington, he might be the smart choice. If McDonald is the actual X-factor, though, he would add a whole new element to the Steelers’ already potent offense.

Tyler Matakevich doesn’t have any hindrances this year

I guess he actually does, considering the Steelers used a first-round pick and a fifth-round pick (Marcus Allen) on safeties who can play linebacker in the nickel package (and, again, there was the Burnett signing). But someone’s going to have to play alongside Vince Williams in the 3-4 sub package (I’m calling it that). The smart money for now is on Bostic, even if he was/is listed behind Matakevich on the depth chart. Playing behind the likes of Shazier, Williams and Lawrence Timmons the past two seasons, Matakevich wasn’t going to be anything but a really good special-teams demon. Matakevich may have been given a real opportunity to show off his stuff following the tragic injury to Shazier last December. Unfortunately for him, though, he suffered a shoulder injury in the same game. He’ll never be Ryan Shazier, but that doesn’t mean Matakevich can’t make the most of his opportunity and go on to have a fine career as a Steelers inside linebacker.

Speaking of opportunities, will James Conner do enough this summer to convince the Steelers he can be a more-than-adequate replacement for Bell next season — or even this season (Heaven forbid)?

It’s impossible to say, considering Conner will likely only get to prove himself during preseason action. And who knows what direction the team will want to go next spring after the inevitable free-agent loss of Bell? And let’s not forget Conner’s two major knee injuries since 2015.

How hard will Steelers fans cheer for Mason Rudolph the very second he does anything positive in either preseason game at Heinz Field?

People hate Landry Jones because he’s not Ben Roethlisberger, but they love Mason Rudolph because he’s not Landry Jones. It’s a vicious cycle, and it won’t take much for fans to go nuts and declare Rudolph the backup quarterback the moment he does anything notable while playing August football.

Oh well, these are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about as the Steelers kick off yet another training camp and prepare for what we all hope will be an exciting and memorable 2018 season.

Happy football!