Steelers storylines heading into the start of OTAs
The Steelers kick off with the first of 10 OTA practices on Tuesday. Here’s the lowdown as Mike Tomlin gets ready to put his team through its first practice of the year.
1. All sessions are voluntary and non-contact. Players are not permitted to wear pads, but they will wear helmets during the first 11-on-11 drills of the offseason.
2. This will be the first time Tomlin won’t see Dick LeBeau when he looks over his shoulder to see who’s running the defense. Keith Butler has made the move up to defensive coordinator after 12 seasons as the team’s linebackers coach. He’ll be tasked with upgrading a unit that was ranked 18th in both points and yardage allowed. And he’ll have to do it with a trio of Steelers defensive stalwarts no longer around — Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor all retired this offseason.
3. Defensive end Cam Heyward said he doesn’t expect the Steelers’ system to change much under Butler, who said he planned to mix up his alignments more than his predecessor. "I don’t think there will be too many changes," Heyward told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "It will be the same details. He might have a couple of more wrinkles, but we’re not going to share that now."
3. One veteran Steeler defender who will be back is James Harrison. As evidenced by his frequent Instagram posts, Harrison has been hitting the weight room as hard as ever this offseason. The 11-year veteran seems willing to take on more of a mentorship role this season, but Jarvis Jones is going to have to work just as hard to reclaim his starting job.
4. Several starting roles are up for grabs under Butler. Shamarko Thomas has the inside track to replace Polamalu at safety alongside Mike Mitchell, but the cornerback situation is even more intriguing. Can Cortez Allen overcome a terrible 2014? Will Antwon Blake continue to emerge with Brice McCain gone? Or will second-round pick Senquez Golson make an immediate splash?
5. The pass rush. Jarvis Jones hasn’t lived up to his potential when he hasn’t been injured. Harrison may be a freak of nature, but he can’t be expected to shoulder the load. Can first-round pick Bud Dupree jump right in and start getting after the quarterback?
6. And now we get to the offense. Antonio Brown caused a stir last month when he no-showed the team’s first voluntary workouts. Reports swirled that he was unhappy with his contract and a holdout was looming, but it turned out he just wanted to spend more time with his newborn baby. Will a contract dispute rear its ugly head this summer?
7. Todd Haley said earlier this season that he expects Martavis Bryant to make a run at Markus Wheaton to become the team’s No. 2 wideout. Bryant will look to get out of the gates quicker than he did last season, when he missed the first six games due to a shaky training camp.
8. Le’Veon Bell is still working his way back from the knee injury that kept him out of the postseason. Newcomer De’Angelo Williams will get a chance to prove that he’s not yet over the hill while Bell serves his three-game suspension to start the season.