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Old 07-26-2009, 10:39 AM   #1
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Default Five days to camp, five questions

Five days to camp, five questions
AP file photo by GENE J. PUSKAR Sixburgh is what Pittsburgh became last season after the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win six Lombardi Trophies.

By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff

On Friday, the Steelers report to Latrobe for what figures to be a most intriguing training camp. Though they’re the reigning Super Bowl champions and return 20 of 22 starters (including all 11 on offense), they do have some genuine concerns and question marks. Times pro football writer Mike Bires breaks down the Steelers’ top five most pressing issues:

1. Big Ben’s state of mind

After the Steelers’ last Super Bowl victory, Ben Roethlisberger went to camp still showing the effects of a near-fatal motorcycle accident. He went on to have his worst season as a pro as the Steelers stumbled at 8-8 and missed the playoffs in 2006.

Now, the star QB heads to St. Vincent with the weight of a sexual assault lawsuit weighing heavily on his psyche. He’s proclaimed his innocence, but you can only wonder how this will affect his performance on the football field.

2: Hampton’s waist line

A year ago, Casey Hampton was immediately placed on the physically unable to perform list because he reported for duty overweight. The situation resolved itself midway in camp when “Big Snack” worked his way back into shape.

But the four-time Pro Bowl all-star wasn’t his dominant self and missed three games early in the season with a groin injury.

It would behoove Hampton, who’s in the last year of his contract, to report to camp in decent shape and avoid the wrath of coach Mike Tomlin.

3. Ongoing saga of the O-line

During Super Bowl week and in the aftermath of their 27-23 win over Arizona, Tomlin, Roethlisberger and others chastised the media for ripping on the offensive line all season.

On one hand, they were right. That unit was good enough to help the Steelers win it all. Still, Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times during the regular season — only New England’s Matt Cassel was sacked more — and seven more times in three playoff games.

Not all of the sacks can be blamed on the line, but too many of them can. And despite the Super Bowl win, the line has two major question marks going into camp.

Who will play right guard, where Darnell Stapleton filled in after Kendall Simmons suffered an early season-ending injury?

And will Max Starks, at the all-important left tackle spot, elevate his game now that he’s been rewarded with a lucrative contract extension?

4. Finding a new No. 3 wide receiver

The Steelers can only hope they can find a third wideout who produced as well as Nate Washington did last year.

For a guy who dropped his share of passes during his four-year stay in Pittsburgh, Washington came up big, especially in the middle part of the season when he caught passes of 48 yards or more in four straight games. It was Washington who led the Steelers in yards per catch (15.8). And it was Washington who was on the receiving end of Rothlisberger’s longest TD pass (65 yards).

Going into camp, Limas Sweed, a tall target who made a minimal contribution as a rookie last year, and free-agent acquisition Shaun McDonald are the front-runners to take over as the No. 3 guy behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.

5. Threat of a Super Bowl hangover

The last time the Steelers defended a Super Bowl title, they fell flat on their faces. Never did they appear to be a legitimate contender in a disappointing .500 season in ’06.

There were several reasons for that demise. Among them were Roethlisberger’s health issues (beside his motorcycle crash, he also had appendicitis and a concussion); the retirement of Jerome Bettis; and the unstable coaching situation with Bill Cowher, who would quit at the end of the season.

Another theory for the flawed title defense was a collective feeling of complacency. After 14 years, Cowher had finally won the big one. After 25 seasons, the Steelers finally won “one for the thumb.” So many players, at long last, experienced the thrill of the NFL’s ultimate victory. Naturally, the desire for greatness was dulled in the summer of ’06.

That doesn’t figure to happen this year. Not with Tomlin in just his third season at the helm.

These Steelers also have a sense of history on their side. If they can repeat, they’ll match the New England Patriots for most Super Bowl wins in this decade.

Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesonline.com
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Old 07-26-2009, 07:53 PM   #2
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Default Re: Five days to camp, five questions

1. Ben will be fine. The charges will be dropped and he has the fan support to pull him through this.

2. Hampton concerns me. Not his waistline, but the addition of Ziggy Hood who will either push Hampton to be better, or beat him out for the roster spot altogether.

3. People forget that the O-line that won the super bowl only played together as a whole unit for like 5 games last year. They seemed to get stronger as the season went on and I think they will turn a lot of heads this season. Plus we have the depth that we didnt have last year with Urbik and Shipley.

4. Sweed will be the number 3 reciever, and I predict he will be the breakout player of the year. Ala Timmons last year.

5. Two words: Mike Tomlin. It simply wont happen with this guy.

"If I could live my life over I would be a professional football player, and you damn well better believe I would be a Pittsburgh Steeler." - Jack Lambert
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Old 07-29-2009, 02:29 AM   #3
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Default Re: Five days to camp, five questions

1) Ben is fat and healthy, unlike 2006. His legal chores will be handled by his lawyers, without him being present in the court room, up until a trial(if it goes to trial.). Any competent lawyer, let alone one that Ben can afford, will get the trial delayed until after the season. If he's innocent, and a lot of things are pointing to that right now, he won't have a heavy conscious weighing on his mind. I think he'll have as good a state of mind as anyone could have.
2) I really don't think Hamp is gonna make that mistake twice. The reason why some players repeatedly come to camp over weight is because they're never held accountable in front of their peers and critics. We all know, with Tomlin's "News" and his general demeanor, that his strength is assigning accountability at ALL TIMES. He downright embarrassed Big Snack in front of his team, and the world, by putting him on the pup AND stating why he put him there. I'd big shocked if Hamp was stupid enough to make that mistake again.
3) I generally agree that the line is the biggest question mark going into camp. That being said, they have the potential to improve drastically IMO. Especially when you bring in Urbik and Shipley. Talk about a warning shot across the bow. Who knows how it will all shake down. It's going to be a VERY competitive camp for the o-line and they'll be better for it. We just need to get the best group out there early and hope injuries don't keep them from gelling into a solid unit.
4) Another great camp battle in the making, but I think McDonald is only here to push Sweed and be our #4. We all want Sweed to get the job after they way he bounced back from that embarrassing faked injury. He has the size, at 6'4" 220(T.O. is listed at 6'3 224. ), and the speed. Sweed's gonna be a nightmare for DB's to handle, not to mention tackle. I can see him commanding a lot of respect from defenses as the season goes on. He really has the potential to be a special WR and I don't see McDonald getting in the way of that.
5) This year's camp is going to be very competitive because of our draft class and free agents. The o-line is gonna be a battle royale and who knows how it's gonna shake down. 3rd WR is up for grabs between Sweed and McDonald. Parker, Moore, Mendenhall, and Frank the Tank are all gonna be fighting for every bit of PT that they can get. Special teams will have a lot of battles too. There are going to be enough battles going on to keep this team from getting complacent IMHO.
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