clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Weekend Checkdown: the top Steelers stories of the week

New, comments

Steelers awake from their slumber as training camp looms on the horizon

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It begins !

There's this moment that anyone who has ever resided in Pittsburgh, and many visitors know well. You have been driving on the Parkway West toward town, go through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and when you emerge all of the sudden the city in all its glory is just there. That's how its been over the past month or so. There have been feel good stories about the players on the current team and what they have been up to, reminiscence over past glories and conversation about the place of the Pirates in the hearts of Pittsburgh sports fans. And then, suddenly, its here. We are less than a week from the opening of training camp in Latrobe. The eyes of the football worshiping world will be there as the Steelers (and Vikings, but they are clearly less interesting) will be first out the gate in preparation for the Hall of Fame preseason match up. This means that for one of the rare times in the last six months there is real news coming, not just media and fans with their fingers up their noses playing speculative games of 'what if'. It also means that the Hall of Fame induction of Jerome Bettis is just around the corner. Finally, it means that the final countdown to the commencement of real football, the 2015 edition, has begun.

The business of football

This is the dominant theme of the week. The more urgent event was the signing to a contract extension of defensive end Cameron Heyward. If you have been following how the Pittsburgh Steelers have been conducting their business over the past several years, the signing and its timing should come as no surprise. But in the days leading up to this you could feel some folks clearing their throats, ready to take issue with why the powers that be might be dragging their heels and causing unnecessary drama; which in retrospect may have more to do about wishful thinking rather than a legitimate raising of alarm. The impact of the signing is similar to that of Maurkice Pouncey last summer. It establishes Heyward as a cornerstone not only of the present but also into a future that, because of the realities of the game, is beyond the horizon of our perception and is unknowable at this time. Players of greater impact will almost certainly come and go, but if they remain reasonably healthy, Heyward and Pouncey will be the fixed stars by which the team navigates for the remainder of this decade, and perhaps beyond.

But the more important business event for the Steelers most likely occurred outside of Pittsburgh. Signings in Dallas and Denver (Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas) has likely set the stage for what will occur contractually for wide receiver Antonio Brown in the coming months. Legitimately in the discussion for being, pound for pound, the best player in the game, Brown has cause to revisit a contractual arrangement that was generous at the time that it was signed, but he has clearly outperformed. There are any number of ways that this situation can be handled. Unfortunately, many of the scenarios could easily go quite badly. Two words: Mike Wallace. For those of you who just love to worry, Merry Christmas.

And what about Kelvin Beachum? Remember when a large number of fans were absolutely apoplectic that the, now, starting left tackle was still a member of the team roster after his first training camp? Heyward was the justified top signing priority, but there are few persons more valuable to the fate of a football team than a decent left tackle. Securing Beachum's future prior to the beginning of this season would be a good and wise move, and not out of the realm of possibility given the operating standards, but if it happens it may not be for a few more weeks.

And then there is the matter of the team itself as the NFL shows its economic muscle in this Forbes survey.

Training camp

A special milestone will be recognized as the team convenes at Saint Vincent College. This will mark the 50th season that the Steelers have set up stakes in Latrobe. Only the Green Bay Packers have been in one location longer. This is also particularly significant because it also bucks the trend away from holding camp in special locations away from teams' regular training facilities. Camp has been an annual rite of summer for many Steelers fans and a pilgrimage for those who reside hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of miles away who plan vacations around this activity. It is also worth noting that it is still a totally free event. You pay nothing for parking and admissions. Use your money on the available Steelers gear and in patronizing local businesses that experience a serious uptick at camp time.

There will be a special day of activities commemorating the anniversary on the first day of practice open to the public. Steelers.com and the local media (Post-Gazette and Tribune Review) are now gearing up with fan guides and articles that begin to frame the challenges of the 2015 season. It should also be noted that because they open before other teams, you will be able to follow the early portion of camp via the national media; Espn, NFL Network, Sports Illustrated.

Story lines

There will be a lot of different permutations that will be pursued over the summer, but you can distill the key Steelers story lines to two: How good can the Steelers' offense be, and its bizarre juxtaposition to how the defense had been traditionally viewed. And what will become of the Pittsburgh defense under new management.

Breaking down the offensive story line will be the question of whether the current circumstance represents a fortunate confluence of star power centered around the presence of a great franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, or does it also represent a more significant sea change that reflects a recognition of offensive orientation of the league and a move to the head of the class by the organization in response?

The defensive story line is more fraught with mystery and could ultimately be more intriguing than that of the offense. Though the situation in the secondary seems too fragile to inspire more that limited confidence to some, and youth as well as a new coordinator holds the potential for as much downside as up, the upside could be way up.

Tomlin

A dark horse story line (no pun intended) would be that of the head coach who is headed into his 9th season at the helm as the third longest tenured coach in franchise history and still without a losing season. He is still not without his critics which is what all Steelers head coaches are destined to endure, but they have been considerably muzzled by the team's performance in the past two and a half seasons, as well as what has to appear to reasonable minds a masterful handling of a transition period that could result in the team returning to elite status efficiently with little pain and under the leadership of one who is still quite young and whose own upside holds tremendous promise for growth.

Wrapping up the projections

The previews are about to give way to the realities of competition. Mike Frazier previews the defensive line and outside linebackers. ESPN beat writers for the AFC North see Ryan Shazier and Martavis Bryant as emerging stars.

Steelers legacy (cont.)

Profiles this week on Chuck Noll [here], Franco Harris [here], Lynn Swann [here], Mike Webster [here] and John Stallworth [here].

Two of three 'Bs'

The awards keep coming for AB. And once we get past the suspension things look promising for Le'Veon Bell.

Forging Steel

Highlighted the trailer for this mini-doc focusing on Steelers' mini-camp last week. Here are episodes one and two.

The future of punting

With the offensive line moving into a period characterized by competent stability, there remains one aspect of the team that has consistently struggled during the Tomlin Era. Can that change this year?

Max

Been wondering what Max Starks has been up to since retiring? No? Well news is still a little slow so I'll show you anyway.

Stats

Those of you who are into the statistical analysis side of things should find something to chew on in this piece from the National Football Post.