Sports

Steelers new season

With training camp wrapped up and less than two weeks until the NFL starts its regular season, it is time to take a look at some off-season story lines and how they will affect the Pittsburgh Steelers once the games start to matter.

One of the biggest changes involved the coaches rather than players. Todd Haley, former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, was brought in to replace offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Art Rooney II, the Steelers’ president and co-owner, wanted to reinvigorate the offense, believing that the plays had grown flat and that traditional Steeler smash-mouth football was not what it used to be.

Judging by the high-flying offense used while he was the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals during their Super Bowl run, Haley brings a more abrasive personality to the table. After starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s public support of the fired Arians, fans are curious about how Big Ben will work with the temperamental Haley.Will this change bring some life back to the stale Pittsburgh offense?

Part of the problem with the Steelers’ offense last season was keeping Roethlisberger upright and healthy in the pocket.

To address this need, the team took guard David DeCastro out of Stanford University and offensive tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State University in the April rookie draft.

Adding these young talents next to third-year pro-bowl center Maurkice Pouncey transforms the offensive line from a revolving door of injured veterans to a young core that could dominate the league for years to come.

So far in training camp, DeCastro has looked fantastic as right guard, making few mental errors and showing good footwork and fundamentals.

Adams has looked more like a rookie, struggling to adjust to guarding Roethlisberger’s blind side at the left tackle position.

It’s unreasonable to expect these young linemen to play to their full potential this year, but they should be improvements from last year’s team and they will grow as this season continues.

Another tale from the off-season is Mike Wallace’s holdout.

The starting wide receiver was offered a standard restrictive free agent contract, which — while far below market value — is all the Steelers are required to give him.

Wallace showed his displeasure by holding out on team activities, including workouts, training camp, and preseason games.

Unfortunately for him, Wallace’s holdout has only allowed wide receiver Antonio Brown to further cement his place as the Steelers’ top offensive playmaker, paving the way for him to become the center of the offense.

This gives fans a lot of hope, and eliminates most of the leverage Wallace had to negotiate with.

Wallace is scheduled to end his holdout and rejoin the team, but he may have already lost his top receiver role.

The injuries that plagued the Steelers at the end of last season can still be felt. Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall has been in rehab with a torn ACL and is not expected back at full speed until October at the earliest.

His replacement, Issac Redman, is currently nursing a hip injury and has no timetable for return.

On the defensive side of the ball, the situation is not much better as the first- and second-string right outside linebackers, James Harrison and Jason Worilds, are still recovering from surgeries. Starting nose tackle Casey Hampton is currently working to come back from knee and elbow injuries that sidelined him at the end of last year.

The team is returning with the same core players on offense and defense, but looks to be taking a new philosophy on both sides of the ball.

With the addition of Haley and the new offensive linemen, Pittsburgh is poised to put up one of its best offensive seasons in recent memory — that is, if Wallace is still sharp after missing camp and if Brown keeps on track to become one of the league’s great receiving threats.

On defense, the team is trying to transition to a younger group of players, but the suffocating defensive play we have all grown accustomed to will probably remain.

Even though they play in one of the toughest football divisions with the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens and up-and-coming Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers should make the playoffs, assuming that Roethlisberger stays vertical and the injury report stays clear.