Tomlin trying to make sure Steelers avoid Super Bowl hangover

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Keith Srakocic / Associated press
Mike Tomlin (right) is doing all he can to make sure the Steelers don't take a step back in 2011.


Bucky Brooks recently visited Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa. Here's what he saw.

1. Mike Tomlin doesn't want to hear about a Super Bowl hangover. Recent losers of the Super Bowl have typically struggled the following year, but Tomlin is helping the Steelers work through any potential malaise by increasing his demands. He spent most of practice encouraging his troops to give more effort, while also focusing on details. From watching the defensive line work through drills on the individual sled to correcting defensive backs on their footwork, Tomlin was teaching. He also prodded both sides of the ball during a spirited 2-minute drill that concluded practice. With Tomlin intent on providing daily motivation, the Steelers are on track to pick up where they left off.

2. The offensive line remains in flux. Regarded as the team's biggest issue for the past few seasons, it remains a major concern. The team has an unsettled situation at right guard with Ramon Foster, Tony Hills and Doug Legursky competing for the starting spot. Foster started the preseason opener, but his inconsistent play has opened the door for Hills. If neither player steps up, look for the team to turn the experience of Legursky.

The Steelers are also hoping Willie Colon and Chris Kemoeatu can bounce back from injuries. Colon missed all of last season with an Achilles tear and Kemoeatu has lingering knee issues that kept him out of camp early and will likely force him to miss Thursday's game against the Eagles. Colon and Kemoeatu being effective will play a critical role in whether the offensive line can show major improvement.

3. Rashard Mendenhall has game. He cemented his status as a top runner with his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season, but looks even better heading into 2011. He's showing quickness and burst running between the tackles and his speed getting to the edge is impressive considering his size (5-foot-10, 225 pounds). He also looks more confident and decisive in his cuts, which will lead to more big runs in the Steelers' zone-based system. Unfairly miscast as a fumbler after his critical miscue in Super Bowl XLV, Mendenhall should be poised to have another big season.

4. The "Young Money Crew" is poised to have a big season. The Steelers' young receiving corps of Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown has developed quickly. The trio accounted for nearly 50 percent of the team's passing yards, and their ability to come up with big plays gives the offense the balance needed to offset eight-man boxes used to contain the running game.

Wallace, in particular, has become one of the league's most explosive weapons. His combination of speed and acceleration allows him to get behind defenders on vertical throws. He's also become a more refined route runner. This should lead to even more from Wallace as he slides into the No. 1 receiver role. While Sanders and Brown have the quickness to give defenders fits in the slot. Of the two, Brown has been more impressive in camp and could surprise people in 2011.

5. The defense is built for the long haul. Any discussion about the unit being too old to still play at a high level is premature. After watching the team's young defenders in practice, it's clear director of football operations Kevin Colbert and his staff have done a terrific job of assembling young talent. The front seven features intriguing prospects Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds and Chris Carter. With Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley entering the prime of their respective careers, the Steelers have the nucleus on the frontline to continue to torment opponents with their high-pressure tactics.

Although the secondary doesn't have a budding star, the Steelers drafted a pair of corners -- Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen -- who have the potential to develop into key contributors.

6. The management of reps for veterans could pay dividends early in the season. The Steelers have been careful not to overwork the older guys during an abbreviated training camp. They have carefully plotted out off days in hopes of keeping the veterans fresh. While it doesn't seem like a big deal to those on the outside, the added rest allows an aging roster to quickly recover from the taxing nature of training camp. Given the importance of a getting off to fast start in the regular season, the routine should help their veterans be ready to roll when the season starts.

New guy to watch

» Jerricho Cotchery. The Steelers' decision to bring in Cotchery provides Ben Roethlisberger with a dependable possession receiver who can do damage from the slot or outside. Cotchery's versatility gives the team insurance if Hines Ward falls off due to age or injury or if one of the young receivers takes a step back. Regardless of where he eventually fits in the rotation, Cotchery improves a deep and talented receiving corps.

Overheard

"I usually measure camps based on seasons. I believe that's the appropriate way to look at it. I feel comfortable with what we've done to this point, but no question, you measure camps and productivity based on the outcomes of football seasons."
-- Mike Tomlin on how he measures the success of a training camp.

Prediction

The Steelers will continue to compete for a title. They have a top-five defense that will continue to excel behind James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu. If they can continue to get solid play from cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, there's no reason the defense won't carry the Steelers deep into the postseason again.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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