Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp To-Do List
With NFL training camps opening up around the league, it is almost the start of the happiest time of the year for football fans. This holds very true for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. 2014 is a pivotal year for the franchise. Especially when you consider this team hasn’t had three seasons without a winning record in 43 years.
The problems with this team became quite apparent as the 2013 season progressed. That means there is a clear plan for the areas of improvement for this team. Here’s a quick to-do list for the Steelers during training camp.
Hone the No-Huddle Offense
If you can point to any strategic change that led to the Steelers' 6-2 second half of the 2013 season, the most likely thing could have been the inclusion of more no-huddle offense. Keep in mind, the term no-huddle and the term hurry-up are not mutually exclusive. In many cases, Pittsburgh used a great deal of the play clock when it ran it.
The difference is, it puts quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in charge and in front of the defense early. This allows him to make better pre-snap reads and more effective play-calling. In many cases, the read had to do with the position of the safeties. Big Ben sees a single-high safety, check to the pass, two-deep safeties and he checked to a run.
Pittsburgh averaged 10 more points per game in its final eight games, and it is hard to ignore the efficiency that the offense worked with when it included more no-huddle calls.
The hope for 2014 is that the offense expands the no-huddle even further. Last season, during their late-season push, the Steelers ran the no-huddle 28.6 percent of the time. And the offense overall was much more efficient.
It would be ideal for Pittsburgh to get this offense humming like that again this year to start the season. Even getting up past 30 percent would make sense.
Focus on the Run Game
The Steelers also only had 394 carries on the year, which put them at No. 25 in the league. Another statistic that Steelers fans have a hard time swallowing. In an AFC North that prides itself on physical play, this is something that must improve.
And with the addition of LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer to the depth chart, it should be easy. The offensive line improved down the stretch and could be one of the best all-around lines this team has had in a long time.
The key to this will be using quick-hitting run plays that take advantage of that athletic interior offensive line. Pittsburgh struggled running longer developing, stretch-type run plays. It would be better to use these explosive backs to attack the line of scrimmage and not force this offensive line to maintain those blocks too terribly long.
Evaluate the Youth on the Roster
Last season, the primary criticism of the Steelers team centered on it being too old and too slow to compete. And on some level, this criticism was valid. During the course of the year, you saw the age and lack of speed show itself.
The front office and coaching staff recognized that as well. They went to great lengths to inject youth to this team on both sides of the football. However, the key during training camp will be to see if this is just youth, or is it youth that can play.
Looking over the current depth chart, it is exciting to see that at present, only 10 players on the roster are 30 years old or better. There are more rookies (11) on the three-deep as of now. Removing special teams, there’s a real chance that Pittsburgh will only have four starters over the age of 30.
It’s been some time since Pittsburgh has been in a position to evaluate so many young athletes. And it has been even longer since this many young players have had a real shot to not only make the final roster, but have a significant impact during the season.
Win It for Tomlin?
You can bet that every move head coach Mike Tomlin makes this season is going to have at least a smidge of self-preservation in it. Tomlin joined the Steelers as head coach back in 2007 and took that team to a Super Bowl victory the following year.
And if you think this is far-fetched, just ask Tomlin. He understands that regardless of the loyalty of ownership, nothing is a given.
With this in mind, the personnel choices this team makes during training camp will be something to keep an eye on. That’s not to say Tomlin is going to suddenly shift into “win now” mode or anything, but it will be interesting to see if he chooses to dial up the intensity or plays it more safe.
Would another season without a winning record cost Tomlin his job? Probably not, but this is not the same NFL of 40 years ago. Teams cannot afford to offer the leeway they did in the past. Also, this team has its franchise quarterback, and he has five or six great seasons ahead of him. This franchise doesn’t have time for a rebuild.
Generate More Sacks and Interceptions
If there is a top priority for this team in training camp, it has to be to find a way to create more sacks and turnovers on defense. Yes, there are other issues, but none more pressing than these.
Last season, the only teams with fewer interceptions (10) than the Steelers were the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders. And we all saw how well that worked out for them. Things weren't any better in regard to sacks, as Pittsburgh only mustered 34, which ranked them No. 25 in the league.
The fact that this team was still able to salvage an 8-8 record with these sorry numbers is a testament to just how good the rest of this team is. And just how great it could be if these stats could improve.
But how do the Steelers accomplish this? With aggression. It was hard to watch this once-great defense play passive and tentative last season. This defense wins when it asserts itself and imposes its will on an offense. Yes, this does at times come with a big play for the other side now and then. Nevertheless, it is all about balance. Win more than you lose, and things will work out just fine.
Unless specified, all stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.