The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Pro

August 28, 2013

Steelers relying on new faces to replace old stars

PITTSBURGH — It was, even by Brett Keisel’s standards, a little over the top.

Hard hat pulled tight over his head, thatch beard already in midseason form, the veteran Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end arrived at training camp last month in a mini-dump truck. Just to prove he knew what he was doing, the 13-year veteran hit a lever and sent his luggage tumbling out of the cargo bed.

As an entrance, it was more goofy than grandiose. As a symbol of where the franchise Keisel plays for finds itself heading into 2013, it couldn’t have been more apt.

The Steelers shed what they deemed excess baggage in the offseason, even if the baggage included a handful of players with multiple Super Bowl rings. James Harrison, Max Starks and Casey Hampton, Willie Colon, Rashard Mendenhall and Charlie Batch were either deemed too old or too expensive to keep around – or both – after an 8-8 season while Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis found bigger paydays elsewhere.

Though general manager Kevin Colbert shies away from the term rebuilding – particularly for a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons this millennium – his players are well aware of a small tectonic shift in the locker room.

“We have a lot to prove,” Keisel said. “The biggest thing we need is our young guys have got to step up and seize this moment.”

First-round pick Jarvis Jones and second-round pick Le’Veon Bell and a retooled offensive line will help lead the youth movement. Yet Pittsburgh’s fortunes this year will ultimately rely on several bold-faced names doing bold-faced things, and staying healthy while they do them.

While stars Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu remain fixtures, the Steelers find themselves trying to close the gap on defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore and the upstart Cincinnati Bengals on the fly.

Consider this: starting in 2000 the Steelers have missed the playoffs once every three years. Each time the Steelers have responded with a bounce back season in which they won the division.

Five things to look for as the Steelers try to return to prominence:

DETENTE FOR ROETHLISBERGER AND HALEY? Depending on what you believe, Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were either at each other’s throats last season or in the midst of a quiet cold war. Either way, both sides say they’ve made strides to get more in tune with the direction they want the offense to go. Roethlisberger praised Haley for opening the suggestion box during the offseason and there’s a sense the two firebrands have found some middle ground.

“Your big dogs have to have input,” Haley said. “They’re the ones out there facing the live bullets.”

The loss of Wallace leaves Pittsburgh without a proven big-play threat, but the addition of third-round pick Markus Wheaton gives the receiving corps a dash of speed.

WILL THE BELL TOLL? The Steelers were so high on Le’Veon Bell they made him just the second running back they’ve selected in the first two rounds of the draft since 1989. While he showed flashes of brilliance during camp, the 21-year-old also struggled to stay out of the trainer’s room.

Bell will likely miss the first few weeks of the regular season due to a sprained right foot, an injury that came on the heels of a left knee issue. Bell’s durability and versatility make him a great fit in Haley’s offense but for now, the running game will fall to holdovers Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, both of whom are in contract years looking to prove they can be a feature back somewhere in the NFL.

TURNAROUND TROY: Polamalu spent most of 2012 standing on the sideline watching the league’s top-ranked defense go on without him due to a torn calf muscle. Nearing the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, the 32-year-old changed things up in the offseason, switching physical therapists while trying to be more proactive about injury prevention.

The explosion that’s made him a disruptive force over the last decade has returned in the preseason. The Steelers need him to look like his usual self if they want to create the kind of splash plays they lacked in 2012. Pittsburgh generated just 20 turnovers last fall, four of them coming in a meaningless season finale when a decidedly nimble Polamalu threw his body all over the field like it was 2009.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES: If there’s an heir apparent to Polamalu, it might be rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones. Taken with the 17th overall pick in the draft as the eventual successor to Harrison, Jones’ ability to make his way to the ball evokes Polamalu in his prime. During one 11-on-11 drill in camp, he swatted down two passes from Roethlisberger and intercepted another. He recovered a fumble in the preseason opener, forced one a week later and picked off a pass in his third game as a professional.

“I call it lucky, man, and just doing the things that I’m supposed to do,” Jones said. “That’s just go all out and run to the ball and just try to make plays.”

TERRIFIC TWENTYSOMETHINGS: Nowhere is the youth movement more evident than on the offensive line, which includes just one starter over the age of 25, and that’s 27-year-old Ramon Foster. Banged up and beaten down in 2012, cohesion and chemistry will be vital to protecting Roethlisberger.

Loaded with high draft picks – Foster is the only starter not taken in the first or second rounds – the group needs to mature quickly.

“We know what we can do, what’s ahead for us,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “If we have that lunch-pail mentality and stay humble, I think things will work out for us.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Pro
  • Penguins 0419 Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT

    Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
    Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0419 Brewers rally to clip Pirates

    Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
    Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon

    The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897.  Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.

    April 19, 2014

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads