Pittsburgh Steelers: 6 Early Signs the Steelers Have Turned the Corner
As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin the final month of the offseason, it's time to take a look back at everything that's been accomplished since the team sulked off the field in Denver after a stunning playoff exit in last year's Wild Card Round.
Looking at how this team has improved and prepared itself for the coming struggle, it's hard not to think they've begun to turn the corner and get themselves back in position to play in next season's championship.
Here are six signs you can take to the bank.
No More Talk of Unrest
Not long after the ink was dry on Todd Haley's contract to coordinate the Pittsburgh offense, talk began of possible unrest between coach and quarterback.
Every little snippet that came out of offseason interviews and minicamp and OTA commentary was purported to be further proof that things were not peaceful in Pittsburgh.
Fortunately, most of that appears to have been myth—the product of the press not being able to resist a good story.
Even more fortunately, whatever it was is now in the past. There has been no talk of unrest in a long time. Once training camp opens, there will be little time to worry about it.
The focus can be placed solely on preparation, learning and performance.
Great Early Returns
One of the early questions that was posed was about how the Steelers would manage without running back Rashard Mendenhall.
The answer seems to be that they'll manage pretty well. They didn't see a need to bring back Mewelde Moore—one of the team's veteran runners—or bring in a free agent of any kind. That was a good sign of the trust in the current group of players.
Add in that nothing was done in the draft or rookie free agency and you have all the evidence you need. The only thing remaining was for the players to justify that trust.
So far, Isaac Redman has looked ready to handle the load of being a starter. Baron Batch, who missed all of 2011, has looked like the next Moore, albeit more talented. Jonathan Dwyer has also looked ready to go as he tries to solidify a roster spot.
Even Mendenhall has seemed a bit ahead of schedule and looks like a guy who might return not far into the season.
With all of that talent ready to go, it seems as though the Steelers may not struggle to run the ball much at all next season regardless of how their former starter recovers.
That New-Look Line
At this point last year, the Steelers were planning to start Jonathan Scott at the all-important left tackle position. Maurkice Pouncey was the only sure thing on a line that looked unstable and ill-equipped in a division that boasts some of the best pass-rushers and run stuffers in the NFL.
What a difference a year makes. The Steelers no longer look like a team that will be going out and bringing back Max Starks to save them. They look like a team that has one of the best offensive lines in the conference.
David DeCastro was a top-10 talent in the April draft who fell to Pittsburgh. He should be a staple at right guard for the next decade. Willie Colon is finally healthy again and moving to a left guard spot that should be much more his style. Mike Adams is highly motivated to prove himself at left guard. Rookie surprise Marcus Gilbert is back this year and should solidify the right tackle spot yet again.
Oh, and Pouncey is still in the center of things.
This line has to make Ben Roethlisberger and the team's runners feel happy. It should also make fans feel more expectant. This is the kind of unit that can anchor a champion.
No Wallace Worry
If you ask any Steelers fan how worried they are about Mike Wallace's contract hissy fit, you will likely get a shrug accompanied by a expression that there's nothing to worry about.
Part of that is the near-certain knowledge that Wallace will play this year and that he won't miss any more major time. It doesn't benefit him to do so. He also must now realize he isn't getting anything close to the monster deal he was hoping for from any team in the NFL.
But another part of that sheer lack of concern is rooted in the knowledge that the Steelers, who lost team leader Hines Ward to retirement after last season, are so deep at receiver that nothing Wallace does will truly matter.
Mike Tomlin has worked his entire tenure to establish a culture of "next man up" with the Steelers. Regardless of what happens, the players on the field must perform. That cannot be seen anywhere better than at receiver, where fans, coaches and teammates fully expect that Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and whoever else makes the cut will perform just fine.
Mr. Wallace, it's time to get off your high horse. This team doesn't need you nearly as much as you need it.
A Great Haul
If there's one team that almost certainly got their money's worth in this year's draft, it was Pittsburgh. This might be one of the best drafts the team has ever had and certainly looks to be the best one in the 21st century pick-for-pick.
A championship team must play at least 19 games to win the title. That means that the team must be deep enough on the roster to survive injuries. A key injury can and has ruined the season of many a championship-caliber roster.
The Steelers have that look. A year after looking like a team that had age against it on defense and a talent vacuum on the offensive line, the Steelers have used a rookie class to put themselves back in the position of being a deep, very talented roster.
Youth and optimism has reigned on defense in the early going. The offensive line is expected to be excellent now. The Steelers got a great haul, and many of those players could and should contribute to a Super Bowl run in 2012.
Distance to Corner: Minimal
One of the biggest reasons to think that the Steelers have turned the corner is that the corner wasn't very far away to begin with. This is a team that won 12 games in 2011 and went toe-to-toe successfully with a ton of top contenders.
This is also a team that won a Super Bowl less than five years ago and appeared in one just two years back. Much of that roster is still intact. This team is almost always primed to win. The trick is finishing. That will be the big test in 2012.
But I would wager that this might be the best Pittsburgh roster in many years. There are few questions to answer. Predicting an accurate 53-man roster right now would be the matter of only answering a few questions, not guessing through tons of possible options.
The Steelers will enter training camp with only a few questions to ponder and answers within easy reach. They will enter the 2012 regular season motivated by a playoff upset and by the desire to continue to prove doubters wrong.
This is a very dangerous team to the rest of the AFC. This is a team that looks ready to win it all. And it's only July!