Every year thirty-two NFL teams head into training camp with tough decisions and a myriad of puzzle pieces to put together before the pre-season and regular season kicks off. The Pittsburgh Steelers will put their decoding skills to the test to solve and attempt to put it all together when training camp starts in Latrobe, PA, this Friday at St. Vincent College. This year may prove to be one of the most unpredictable camps in the Steelers' last seven seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers last experienced a perplexing camp situation the year that young Ben Roethlisberger reported to camp fresh off the draft board - 2004. The Steelers had finished with a record of 6-10 during the 2003 season. After camp, however, the Steelers were able to finish 15-1 in 2004 and reach the AFC Championship; something no one in the football world is predicting for the 2013 Steelers. The AFC North has become a stronghold of warriors ready to do battle, including Super Bowl Champion Baltimore.
Will 2013 be the year that Dick LeBeau starts to turn over the reigns more to Keith Butler? Will Todd Haley, who was allowed to shop his own works around to Arizona in January 2013, tweak his offense with Randy Fichtner and Jack Bicknell, Jr.? Most of the questions facing the Steelers will not only need to be addressed during training camp, but answered.
The Steelers have one of the most puzzling questions to answer in their tight ends. If anyone within the Steelers organization has a clue when tight end Heath Miller will be ready to play in 2013, no one is saying. Miller led the Steelers with 71 receptions in 2012 before tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL. Following reconstructive surgery to the knee, Miller has spent time rehabbing. David Johnson, who was slated to be the new half-back in 2012, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of Pittsburgh's preseason game against Philadelphia. Johnson is on the mend, saying that he is, "85 to 90" percent better. That could open up a door for second-year veteran Will Johnson to take the H-back position. The biggest question - and it's a daunting one - is whether or not the Steelers will count on second-year tight end David Paulson to fill in or Matt Spaeth, who returned to the Steelers during the off-season. During minicamp, Paulson had some nagging injuries.
Unless Todd Haley can rewrite the roles tight ends have in the Steelers offense - an offense where tight ends had accounted for 96 receptions and 11 touchdowns in 2012 - it is looking like the Steelers should have shopped for another replacement in the draft or through free agency. Too many question marks in this category unless someone gets healthy and Spaeth makes a historic return to Heinz Field.
The Steelers have never been a team to throw in the towel before a season even begins, and there is a lot of promise in one of the most exciting groups of rookie talent this year. And, while the Steelers put them into play, there are questions of depth and veteran assignments to contemplate and fit together. Training camp will be a team-building experience and the Steelers can't afford to be complacent about being ranked third in the AFC North. Camp at Latrobe is always an exciting mix of positioning and discovery. In 2013, the Steelers will have unravel the mystery of whether they have all the pieces to complete the puzzle.
See the list for other positional battles and key questions expected during training camp this year for the Steelers.
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