Around the NFL  

 

Training camp preview: Steelers sans Le'Veon (again)?

Print

Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Click on the tabs above to see previews for the rest of the AFC North. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Camp report date: Rookies: July 27; Veterans: July 28

Camp location: Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Offseason in a nutshell: Following the jarring news that Le'Veon Bell might be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season due to missed drug tests, the immediate thought is how it will impact Pittsburgh's chances of winning the AFC North. The Steelers have a unique ability to simultaneously appear incredibly deep and threadbare at key positions. Beyond this hit to the backfield, OT Kelvin Beachum departed for Jacksonville and DT Steve McLendon became Damon Harrison's replacement in New York. Now, the sting from Bell's possible absence will be cooled by the veteran poise of DeAngelo Williams. And the addition of Ladarius Green at tight end might be a game changer for an offense that could be layered with playmakers. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger, the bedrock of this team, is in a place creatively and physically that could propel him to another Super Bowl title. As long as he is healthy, not much else matters.

Player to watch in camp: Wide receiver Sammie Coates. My fascination with Coates began at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, back in 2015. In pads, he has the build of a young Terrell Owens minus an inch or two -- but it was readily apparent how much work was going to be required to turn him into something similar. Coates has been pegged as a Martavis Bryant replacement, but in reality the offense is set on auto pilot and can move on with or without him thanks to Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Coates started to reach out and grab opportunities during the playoffs last year, though, and flashed during a loss to the Denver Broncos. Getting him in the open field would be downright destructive to defenses, but that would require a light going on and staying on this August.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:

1. Can Pittsburgh trust Le'Veon Bell?

Bell could miss the first four games of the 2016 season due to suspension, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The talented back missed the first two games last year after violating the league's policy on substances of abuse. As we've seen with star players, this can be a slippery slope. The NFL's drug-testing program is rigorous and unforgiving for previous offenders, and Bell is on the radar. This was initially the season he hoped to use as a springboard for a long-term deal that would make him the highest-paid running back in football. Now, Pittsburgh might have to proceed with a little more caution.

2. Will we see a two-point-conversion period during camp?

If Pittsburgh is going to go for two more than the 11 times it did last year (it led the NFL in tries, and converted on eight attempts), it might need to be a facet of camp alongside staples like inside runs and 7-on-7s. Of course, it could get folded into short-yardage work, but the parameters are so much different than your typical third-and-2. The issue of play volume -- can someone come up with 50 different two-point-conversion plays or rotate enough of them to be effective? -- came up during the spring ball period and still lingers. Pittsburgh could provide a window into fixing it.

3. Will Bud Dupree earn more playing time?

The Steelers have some difficult decisions to make. Jarvis Jones and James Harrison are holding down one side of the ball, while Bud Dupree and Arthur Moats will compete on the other. Moats is clearly the better option against the run, but if the Steelers are not confident with their cornerback play, they might want Dupree to stay on the field more often to increase the heat.

Way-too-early season prediction: A four-game suspension for Bell would hurt. But if all goes according to plan from this point forward -- and Bell can give the Steelers 12 games -- this is a 12-win football team that reaches the Super Bowl.

Print

Fan Discussion