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Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Burning Questions Heading into 2014 Training Camp

For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers fans were subjected to a longer offseason than expected.

That’s what happens when the Steelers don’t make the playoffs and the season ends in December.

Nearly seven of those eight excruciating months have passed, and the appetizer to the Steelers’ long-awaited 2014 season will be served beginning Friday, when the team reports to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

After two straight 8-8 seasons, the Steelers will try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. That would shorten the 2015 offseason by at least a week.

For that to happen, however, the following questions must be answered in the affirmative.

1. Will There Be Enough Depth Behind Antonio Brown at Wide Receiver?

There’s Antonio Brown, who had 110 receptions for a franchise-record 1,499 yards last season. Then there are four players who could fall anywhere from a No. 2 receiver to a total flameout.

Markus Wheaton was hampered by a broken pinkie and caught just six passes in his rookie season. Lance Moore, signed as a free agent from New Orleans, had a down year with 37 catches last season. But he’s ranked in the top 10 in catch percentage when he’s targeted in three of the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The speedy Darrius Heyward-Bey, a former top-10 draft pick by the Oakland Raiders, is an enigma. The Steelers will be his third team in the last three seasons. The 6’4″ Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round draft pick in May, is the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has yearned for, but he has to prove that he has the work ethic to succeed in the NFL.

Derek Moye will have to fight off challenges from Justin Brown, Danny Coale, C.J. Goodwin, Lanear Sampson and Kashif Moore to keep his roster spot.

Lance Moore, who will be 31 at the end of August, could provide a steadying veteran presence as a 5’9″ possession receiver. Wheaton could make a big second-year leap. Bryant could use his length to become an effective red-zone weapon. Heyward-Bey, 27, could return to his 64-reception form of 2011 and use his 4.3 40-yard-dash speed to become a deep threat.

The Steelers need at least two of those scenarios to come to fruition. If not, Antonio Brown will see a lot of double coverage.

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Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-Man Roster Projection

Summer vacation has begun for the NFL and the 90 players trying to make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2014 roster.

The Steelers coaching staff got a look at those players at organized team activities and minicamp. Now there’s a respite before training camp begins July 25 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

The picture will become clearer when these guys start practicing in pads and hitting for real. But those spring workouts provided a few hints. Based on what the Steelers have shown practicing in shorts, here’s a prediction for their final 53-man roster in 2014.

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

Nothing shocking here. Jones, a fourth-round pick last year, will hold off a challenge from undrafted rookie Brendon Kay and keep his roster spot. Gradkowski remains the top backup, but he’s 6-14 as a starter. If Roethlisberger misses any significant time, the Steelers will scan the waiver wire.

Roethlisberger played all 16 games last year for the first time since 2008. If the offensive line protects him the way it did in the second half of the 2013 season, Gradkowski and Jones again could be highly paid spectators in 2014.

That’s the way the Steelers want it.

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How Does Maurkice Pouncey Compare to Great Pittsburgh Steelers Centers of the Past?

How much does Maurkice Pouncey mean to the Pittsburgh Steelers?

One woman’s face said it all.

When Pouncey went down after David DeCastro’s wayward block in last year’s season opener, it was an emotional punch to the gut for the Steelers and their fans.

Pouncey was taken off the field on a flatbed cart, and even the driver couldn’t detach herself from the gloom and doom of the moment. Stadium workers usually just blend in. TV cameras don’t find them the way they find players and fans. But it was impossible not to notice the expression of the woman steering this vehicle.

She seemed affected by the severity of Pouncey’s injury and aware of the dark cloud it cast upon the Steelers’ 2013 season.

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Chuck Noll’s Teaching Skills Helped Change Steelers History

Chuck Noll’s death on Friday at the age of 82 was hardly a surprise. He had been in poor health for a number of years.

But couldn’t he have had just one more Father’s Day?

Noll was more than just a football coach. Unlike many of today’s NFL coaches, he wasn’t working 18-hour days and suffering heart attacks and mini-strokes because of it. He had other interests. He was a pilot, a sailor, an orchestra conductor, a wine connoisseur and a handy man. He was even educated as a lawyer and a history teacher.

Most importantly, he was a father.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Noll’s only son, Chris, came home from high school football practice one afternoon and told his dad that the team needed a long snapper. So Noll took him out into the driveway and taught him how to do it.

Noll did for his son that day what he was paid to do for his players, and that drilling of fundamentals is one of the reasons the Steelers won four championships in the 1970s.

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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 Draft a Year Later

The meter is running on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 draft class.

At a time when the Steelers need immediate contributions from their rookies because of all the holes in their roster, even more will be expected from their second-year players in 2014.

Pundits have handed out letter grades like candy to each NFL team’s 2014 draft. Those grades are about as useful as kindergarten grades in a college application. None of those players have even worn pads.

However, we can start to pencil in grades for the Steelers’ 2013 draft. There’s still a lot of projection that goes into these grades, but at least we have more to go on than scouting reports. We’ll assign letter grades to each individual pick and an overall grade for the draft.

FIRST ROUND

Jarvis Jones, OLB

There’s going to be a learning curve for rookies in Dick LeBeau’s defense. However, Jones had just one sack last season, and he started eight games. LaMarr Woodley had four sacks as a rookie with no starts. Joey Porter had two sacks in his rookie year with no starts and Jason Gildon had two sacks in his first season with one start. And unlike Jones, none of those players were first-round picks. The Steelers chose Jones in the first round to follow in their footsteps. His best game last season came in the finale. He made nine combined tackles and broke up a pass in the Steelers’ 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns. But Jones still has to prove that he can get to the quarterback.

Grade: C

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How Much Would Expanded NFL Playoffs Help the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Most fans don’t want expanded NFL playoffs.

And Roger Goodell doesn’t care.

Principal Goodell tried to ram expanded playoffs down everyone’s throat for 2014, but the matter wasn’t voted upon at the owners meetings in Atlanta.

Expanded playoffs are coming, though, probably by 2015.

So enjoy one last year of the NFL as we know it. Because in 2015 it won’t be the same.

Six teams in each conference currently make the playoffs. The teams with the two best records in each conference earn a first-round bye. Under the proposed plan, seven teams in each conference would make the playoffs, with only the top seed earning a bye.

The NFL has had a 12-team playoff field for the last quarter-century and become the most popular sports league in North America during that time. Now Goodell wants to mess with the formula.

Does anyone remember New Coke?

Wonderful, some Pittsburgh Steelers fans might be thinking. NOW they decide to add playoff teams, after the Steelers would have made it as a seventh seed in 2012 and 2013.

Let’s step into our De Lorean (and pardon this article’s second reference from 1985) and explore an alternate universe where 14 teams would have made the playoffs every year since 2008.

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Are Martavis Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger Compatible?

Super Bowl-winning quarterback, 32, height-weight proportionate, seeks tall wide receiver who’s down to earth but has a high vertical leap. Must have amazing hands to fulfill my red zone fantasies. I like long walks along the Allegheny River, no-huddle offenses and clean pockets. I love to travel, especially to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. I work hard and play harder. No drugs. No games (except football games). Friends first, leading to LTR with a receiver who can put another ring on my finger.

Ever since their careers forced Ben Roethlisberger and Plaxico Burress apart in 2005, the Steelers quarterback has all but taken out a personal ad for a tall wide receiver.

He’s had a few relationships, but ultimately has had his heart broken every time.

Could Martavis Bryant be The One?

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Pittsburgh Steelers Beef Up Defensive Line in 2014 NFL Draft

Cornerback, cornerback, cornerback.

That’s what most Steelers followers were thinking in the weeks leading up to the 2014 NFL draft.

Now, if the Steelers accomplish their mission, everyone will be thinking defensive line, defensive line, defensive line when they look back on this draft.

The Steelers didn’t get that fast, sleek, shiny new Lamborghini of a cornerback that everyone wanted in the early rounds. Instead, they got the big, ugly wood-paneled station wagon by drafting some big uglies up front.

In the second round, they chose Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame, a 6’6″, 312-pound defensive end who turns 21 on May 23. With their sixth-round compensatory pick, No. 215 overall, they took a chance on 6’7″, 348-pound Tennessee nose tackle Dan McCullers. Another player to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Josh Mauro, a 6’6″, 271-pound defensive end from Stanford who reminds many of Brett Keisel.

Everyone wanted the see Ike Taylor’s heir apparent get the royal treatment at Radio City Music Hall, with a brand new Steelers ballcap, a No. 1 Steelers jersey and a bro hug from Roger Goodell. But as much as the Steelers needed a cornerback, they were dangerously thin at defensive line with the free-agent departures of Ziggy Hood and Al Woods.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Pull Rare Surprise, Repeat History by Drafting Ryan Shazier

Raise your hand if you seriously thought the Pittsburgh Steelers would draft Ryan Shazier after the first 14 picks were made in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Didn’t think so.

This was the Steelers’ most dramatic, unpredictable first-round move since they traded up to take Santonio Holmes in 2006.

In recent years, the Steelers have either made picks to fill obvious needs, or they’ve gone for value and taken someone predicted to go in the top 15 who falls to them in the 20s.

Ziggy Hood in 2009, Maurkice Pouncey in 2010, Cameron Heyward in 2011 and Jarvis Jones in 2013 all were projected as Steelers first-round picks in at least a few mock drafts.

That wasn’t the case in 2008 and 2012. Rashard Mendenhall was expected to be taken in the top 15 in 2008, but he slid and the Steelers were there to stop his fall at No. 23. Same with David DeCastro in 2012. Few thought he would get past the Dallas Cowboys at No. 14, but the Cowboys traded up, DeCastro tumbled to 24 and the Steelers ran to the podium with his name on the card.

There were no tumblers this year. When the Steelers’ turn came up at No. 15, the consensus was Darqueze Dennard.

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What Were the Pittsburgh Steelers Thinking Drafting Dri Archer?

Dri Archer?

Really?

The Pittsburgh Steelers punctuated a 51-pick wait Friday night on Day 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft to take this guy?

The Steelers used their third-round compensatory pick, No. 97 overall, on Archer. The 5’8″, 173-pounder from Kent State has been listed as both a running back and a wide receiver.

Archer was the fastest player at the NFL Scouting Combine, blazing to a 40-yard dash time of 4.26 seconds. Since 2006, that’s second only to Chris Johnson. It’s faster than newly-acquired Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who clocked a 4.3 in 2009, and former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace’s 4.33 that same year, according to NFL.com.

Kevin Costner played the Cleveland Browns’ general manger in “Draft Day.” Apparently Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is a handsome man, because Tom Cruise was cast to play him in “Top Gun” nearly 30 years ago.

Because Colbert felt the need. The need for speed.

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