Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College officially comes to a close today. It’s been quite an interesting time this season with old faces no longer gracing the fields, and new faces trying to break into the spotlight and grab the attention of the coaching staff. We’ve learned a lot watching the players this year so let’s see if we can sum up this camp, as one chapter closes on 2012 and another begins.
Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are poised to be starters and are playing like it. They’re both in phenomenal shape, healthy, and fully committed to perfecting their craft. Each has taken full advantage of everything training camp has to offer and have been there the entire offseason learning the offense and working with Ben. These two, if they stay healthy, are going to have big years for the Steelers. Jerricho Cotchery is as capable as ever and now with Hines Ward gone, he is the elder statesman and unquestioned veteran leader of the receivers. He’ll be used this season, more than last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t come through when counted on.
Willie Colon is just flat out mean and tough as they come. He’s found a home at left guard now and he’s had a great camp. The next Alan Faneca may still be David DeCastro but Colon is poised to have a great year and the Steeler guards could be dominant by mid season if not sooner.
Speaking of rookies, both DeCastro and Mike Adams have had a typical training camp, struggles one day and solid showing the next. Both are going to start the year and the team is counting on them to step up. Sure there will be growing pains, but first and second round picks are drafted high for a reason. Adams was back at practice today in full pads and looks to be coming back sooner than expected from his minor knee injury. DeCastro had a good game against Philadelphia and he’ll continue to grow into his position.
Running backs Chris Rainey and Baron Batch have taken full advantage the extra reps they’ve received as a result of injuries to Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and John Clay. That experience is invaluable and even though Dwyer was back practicing on Thursday, all the young backs will get a lot of work the rest of the way in preseason. Redman figures to take it easy with a sore groin the rest of the way. This is a very young group that will have it’s ups and downs but the potential is there for something special. Lest we forget as well, Rashard Mendenhall will eventually be back and that will further strengthen this unit.
If Ben Roethlisberger did invest in a Rosetta Stone to learn Todd Haley’s new offense, it must have worked. Ben and the rest of his group have taken the time needed to learn the new playbook and have been able to spend training camp putting their hard work into action. While we won’t see anything earth shattering in preseason, and there will be growing pains in the regular season, everyone has said that they are comfortable with the scheme and now it’s just a matter of tweaking it as Ben recently mentioned. The little bit that we have seen shows us that we can expect a healthy dose of a reliable, committed running attack, quick passes from Ben and most importantly a better redzone offense…hopefully.
Steve McLendon has lived up to the praise that Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell bestowed up on him after many jumped on the Alameda Ta’amu bandwagon after the draft. McLendon has put on weight but not lost his quickness and strength. With Casey Hampton still week to week, the NT position appears to be in good hands and Ta’amu will have time to work his way into the lineup and gain experience. The rookie has had an up and down camp, and didn’t exactly show up in stellar condition but he’s got a ton of natural talent and in time can turn into an absolute monster.
Mike Wallace is an obvious one here, simply because of his holdout this entire offseason. While he’s been working out in Florida with renown trainer Tom Shaw, he’s still going to have an adjustment period of getting his timing down with Ben Roethlisberger. There’s no doubt that Wallace will show up in shape, and that he can learn the new playbook quickly if necessary but whether or not he starts when he does return might not be as much of a given if he’d been with the team this whole time. Haley may decide to ease Wallace back into the offense, or he might just throw him to the wolves. Whatever he decides it will be interesting but the Steelers will be a potent offense one way or the other.
The backup receivers have not stepped up and separated themselves during camp at all. the best word that anyone can use to describe them is, inconsistent. For every nice catch or good route, there’s a dropped ball or missed assignment. There’s 3 preseason games left but every chance these guys get they’ll need to take advantage of. When Wallace does return there will be 1-2 roster spots max for a host of players trying to make the team. Derrick Williams, David Gilreath, Tyler Beiler, and possibly Toney Clemons may have a slight lead in the race but it’s by no means secure.
Injuries have been a concern this year but that’s to be expected every year. David Johnson’s season is over with a knee injury and John Clay is in the same boat with a torn quad. Mike Adams’ knee injury wasn’t as serious fortunately but Isaac Redman’s sore groin has been troublesome enough to warrant an MRI on Thursday and Mike Tomlin has listed him as day to day right now. Jonathan Dwyer was back on the field and looks to be ready to go again. The team managed to escape major injury from the starters during camp, hopefully preseason goes the same way on this front.
James Harrison’s swollen knee has kept him out of all team activities this year. According to his agent Bill Parise, they were planning on the surgery all along, it was just a matter of when. This week he underwent the arthroscopic procedure to clear debris and hopefully rectify the problem for good. The recovery time is normally a couple weeks for this type of procedure so he could be ready to play in the season opener against Denver. If he isn’t ready, then the coaches have decision to make, which will be greatly aided by what happens in the rest of the preseason.
Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall haven’t been able to practice due to their continued rehab, but the team has young talent getting valuable experience in the mean time. On the final day of camp, both players came off the PUP list, but neither can practice until next week. These guys have said all along that they were feeling good and looking to come back sooner rather than later. Hampton said previously that he expects to ready for the opener. Whether or not either plays early in the season (don’t count on it) remains to be seen but we shouldn’t expect it at this point. Still though, having guys like that with fresh legs in November and December can be huge.
Jason Worilds, if there was ever a time to look forward to seeing what the heir apparent to Harrison is capable of, it’s now. He’s missed the offseason workouts, all of training camp and continues to be listed as week to week on the PUP with a wrist injury. He hasn’t said anything and the team isn’t talking about the severity of the injury but there’s more to this than meets the eye. It’s not known when he’ll return in the preseason if at all, and for that matter if he’ll be able to play the season this year. He’s not been put on injured reserve so it stands to reason he’ll be back sooner or later but all the time he’s missed and the rust that’s accumulated from lack of playing time has hurt his progress.
All in all, this camp has been one where we’ve learned that many players are stepping up and taking advantage of their opportunity and some are not. The depth on this years’ team has the potential to be the best we’ve seen in a long time. Injuries are par for the course and the new offense has potential to be lethal when properly executed. So lets enjoy the rest of the preseason games and here’s to no more injuries!