LAST YEAR: Steelers lost star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at halftime of Week 2 because of right elbow injury. Yet they somehow managed to stay in playoff race until final weeks thanks in large part to defense galvanized by arrival of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in trade and evolution of outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree into one of best edge rush tandems in league.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Eric Ebron, FB Derek Watt, OL Stefen Wisniewski, DL Chris Wormley, WR Chase Claypool, LB Alex Highsmith, RB Anthony McFarland Jr., WR coach Ike Hilliard, QB coach Matt Canada.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: G Ramon Foster, NT Javon Hargrave, LB Mark Barron, LB Anthony Chickillo, WR Johnny Holton, TE Nick Vannett.
PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: For first time in more than half-century, Steelers will hold camp somewhere other than Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Team will work out of Heinz Field instead. Getting gauge on Roethlisberger’s progress from elbow surgery has been difficult because of lack of reps during organized team activities and minicamp. While 38-year-old drew praises from his receivers during informal workouts, coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t seen Roethlisberger throw with his own eyes since last September.
CAMP NEEDS: Offseason moves were predicated on idea that Roethlisberger will pick up where he left off in 2018, when he won league passing title. Ebron and Claypool were added to give Roethlisberger red zone options. Offensive line will have new look following popular Foster’s retirement and defensive line will have to adjust after Hargrave’s exit, but key pieces of unit that kept team competitive without Roethlisberger remain in place.
EXPECTATIONS: Window closing on Roethlisberger’s stellar career, and Steelers have loaded up to send him out strong. Still, Pittsburgh needs backup Mason Rudolph to take another step forward during camp just in case Roethlisberger’s comeback hits speed bump. Defense should be one of league’s best, and even modest improvement offensively should return Pittsburgh to playoff contention.
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