The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our first stop, Albert Breer visits the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Where is NFL Media?
For the 50th year running, the Steelers are at the remote Saint Vincent College campus in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, with their practice fields giving fans in attendance a breathtaking view of the rolling hills of the Laurel Highlands.
1)Steelers coaches are thrilled with second-year pro Martavis Bryant's progress. The ease with which the receiver moves and uses his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame is spectacular, at least in a non-contact setting. The Clemson product fell to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft because of off-field concerns, and I asked him about that on Monday. "I learned the business part of everything," he told me. "I don't have too many questions to ask people anymore, and that's about me being a better player and a better man, and a better teammate." He added, "Nobody else can determine how good I'm gonna be but me."
2) Looking for the difference on defense with longtime coordinator Dick LeBeau gone? It should be along the line, where LeBeau's replacement, Keith Butler, is planning to get his interior guys upfield more consistently, so that the Steelers won't have to send four quite as often. "Shooting gaps sometimes instead of trying dadgum two-gapping everything," Butler explained in his Alabama twang. "We wanna try to give the Cam Heywards, the Stephon Tuitts the chance to show their ability. We drafted them high, we feel like they're good football players, we wanna use 'em."
3) That segues easily into the next point to make here: The Steelers' questions are, for once, on defense. The unit ranked in the bottom half of the NFL (18th) for the first time since Chuck Noll's last season in charge, in 1991 (when the defense finished 22nd). Asked if the players carry a chip because of that, Butler responded, "They should. If they don't, they're at the wrong place." The Steelers have high picks all over the field. A big key here will be how the linebacker group -- which includes four former first-round picks -- comes together. All told, the Steelers could field a front seven with six guys who were selected within the first 46 slots of their respective drafts. General manager Kevin Colbert told me all the defensive youth brings a feeling of "anticipation" on his end, but added, "Just because they were drafted at a certain place doesn't mean anything other than we believe they could produce for us. Now, they have to produce." Another crucial variable: whether third-year pro Shamarko Thomas can turn the corner at safety.
Bud Dupree, OLB: Athletically, Dupree brings everything a team would want in a pass-rusher, but the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft is still seen as raw and in need of development. Pittsburgh isn't a bad place for an edge guy to get that done. With vets James Harrison and Arthur Moats joining Jarvis Jones in the linebacking corps, the Steelers don't need to rush Dupree along. Look for Butler to try to be creative and get matchups for Dupree in pass-rush situations.
DeAngelo Williams, RB: Williams is unique in that he's rushed for 6,846 yards over his nine-year career but only has 14 20-carry games on his résumé. So he'll have no problem being a complement to Le'Veon Bell and should be equipped to carry the load during the bell-cow's suspension -- which was reduced to two games Tuesday, meaning Williams will be featured against New England in Week 1 and San Francisco in Week 2. Coach Mike Tomlin asked Williams to get his weight under 220 pounds, and he's done that.
"Everybody asks me about putting my own mark on it. I'm not concerned with putting my own mark on it. I'm concerned with trying to do what our players can, and listening to the coaches, their position coaches, because they know them best, they're in the room with them a little bit longer than I am. We're trying to do what we feel like our players can do best. And sometimes it's not doing the same thing that you've always done; sometimes it's subtle changes. We're gonna do some of those, and we're gonna do some of the things we've done well in the past -- we're kind of marrying both of them and going from there."
» Among all the young players on defense, early indications are that Jones and Tuitt are the most capable of making big leaps forward in 2015. Tuitt was referred to by one coach here as a "freak."
» Butler pointed out that the Steelers don't "redshirt" the way they once did with players like Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, and he attributed some of the bumps the team has gone through to the change. As such, expect the Steelers to find a way to get Dupree on the field.
» The continued development of third-year pro Markus Wheaton and Bryant's overwhelming ability should create more room for veteran receiver Antonio Brown to operate. At least, that's what the coaches here think. Over the first two days of practice, Brown looked every bit like the star he is.