2012 training camp preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

More AFC North training camp previews: Bengals | Browns | Ravens

Training camp goals

1. The Steelers turn another page in 2012, the largest since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007 and they must adjust to changes quickly this summer. Tomlin changed a coordinator for the first time and a handful of iconic veterans either voluntarily retired or were forced into it, including Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley installed an entirely new system with new terminology the players struggled to learn in the spring. Ben Roethlisberger has one of his biggest challenges as he enters his 30s to operate an offense that will rely heavily on the high-percentage pass and lean more on the ground game than the deep passes and playground scrambles in which the quarterback had become comfortable.

The Steelers need to master Haley's offense more than anything else they do in Latrobe this summer. Roethlisberger and others noted how difficult it was to learn the terminology and the quarterback also talked about a new emphasis on the running game and check-down passes.

2. Pittsburgh is remaking the offensive line. Tackle Willie Colon moves to guard, rookie David DeCastro is expected to start at the other guard and the club hopes rookie tackle Mike Adams wins the job at left tackle. After ignoring the line high in the draft for nearly a decade, the Steelers have poured four high draft picks there the past three seasons, starting with center Maurkice Pouncey (No. 1 pick) in 2010, followed by Marcus Gilbert (second) in 2011 and this year, DeCastro (first) and Adams (second). Last season, two undrafted players started most of the way at the two guards, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster.

Player to watch

With Rashard Mendenhall opening the season on PUP after January ACL surgery, undrafted third-year pro Isaac Redman becomes the starting running back. He has shown himself to be a good power runner with good hands and has progressed steadily up the ranks from rookie practice-squadder to where he earned the top backup role last season when he ran for 479 yards and a 4.4-yard average and caught 18 passes. With the increased emphasis on the running game and Mendenhall not likely to see action for at least the first half of the season and perhaps longer, Redman could double his career high of 110 carries from 2011. A handful of candidates will vie for pecking orders behind him in training camp.

On the hot seat

Wide receiver Mike Wallace made his first Pro Bowl in his third season in 2011. As a restricted free agent, the Steelers issued him a first-round tender of $2.742 million. No other team made him an offer and Wallace has refused to sign with the Steelers. He skipped all of their spring activities and there's no telling if he'll show up on time at training camp – or at all. He's already behind learning Haley's offense and team president Art Rooney said early in June that Wallace "should be here." The sides are nowhere close on a long-term extension and Wallace's absence has not helped his cause – and neither did the second half of his 2011 season. He slumped, with only 393 of his 1,193 yards in the final eight games. He needs to have a good year as he heads into unrestricted free agency in 2013.

[Related: 2012 training camp schedules, fantasy advice and more]

Strategy and personnel

The Steelers signed veteran offensive tackle Max Starks to a one-year contract July 17. Starks had knee surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. He was injured in the AFC wild-card playoff loss at Denver but passed his physical with the Steelers this week. He is expected to compete with rookie Mike Adams at left tackle in training camp, allowing Marcus Gilbert to remain on the right side. Starks, 30, was limited to 19 games the past two seasons by injuries. He was released before training camp in 2011, but re-signed Oct. 5 and made 12 starts. He started for the Steelers in the Super Bowl in 2005 during a stretch of five games starting all but two regular-season games. Starks tweeted a picture of the contract and wrote, "It's real and sealed! I'll be seeing you in Latrobe!"

Full Steelers team report

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