Good Things Going Into Training Camp:The Black & Gold Glass Is Half Full
A lot of people are already counting out the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, even before a single snap has been played in the 2010 NFL season.
The naysayers proclaim that without Roethlisberger for the first four games of the year, the Steelers will dig themselves a hole that's too big to get out of.
They say that the defense is old and breaking down, while ignoring returns and additions, not to mention a history of excellence.
They say that the receiving corps is going to falter, that Hines Ward is old, while ignoring the fact that he's caught for over 1,000 yards the past two years.
Let's switch it up for a bit, and look at the positives going into training camp for the Black 'N Gold.
The Underdog Card
The Steelers perform extremely well when playing the underdog role. The road to Super Bowl XL was perhaps the prime example of this.
They're not stupid, they hear everything that's said. They know they aren't going to do this, that, and the other thing because of X problem. Or at least, that's what they're hearing.
Being competitive athletes all, this isn't getting to them in the way that it may be getting to their fans. They're getting pumped up over this, it's lighting a fire inside of them that they're going to unleash on each and every play of the 2010 season.
Mike Wallace had a great coming out party in his rookie season, and there's nothing that indicates that he'll drop off anytime soon.
Contrary to that, he'll be looked at more and more with the Santonio Holmes trade fresh in his mind—he knows that he has to be the replacement for a Super Bowl MVP.
He's got the physical tools to thrive in the Pittsburgh offense, especially with Ward drawing the defense's eyes away from him.
He essentially is Holmes, without the ego and I (and many Steelers fans) are expecting big things from him this year.
The Return Of The Trojan King
The emotional leader of the defense is back in business by all accounts this year.
After an injury-plagued 2009 campaign, Polamalu's going to be firing on all cylinders come the 2010 season, and that should strike fear into all opposing offenses.
He's a player that absolutely, 100 percent, MUST be accounted for prior to snapping the ball, or he will make you pay the price.
With him comes added experience in a secondary that struggled last year.
Expect the Steelers secondary to get a huge boost with Polamalu leading the charge.
The Unsung Hero
Along with losing the leader of the secondary last year, the Steelers defensive line also took a huge blow with the injury to workhorse Aaron Smith.
Smith is one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL, and never really gets the recognition or credit that he deserves. But he takes it all with a smile and goes out and leaves it all on the field.
With Smith ready to help anchor an already stout defensive line once more, the Steelers run defense will have a legitimate shot to once again land atop the NFL's best.
William Gay's Replacement
With the pick acquired from the New York Jets that sent Holmes to play with former college rival Braylon Edwards, the Steelers promptly re-attained Bryant McFadden from their Super Bowl adversaries.
A lot of people seem to think that because McFadden played on one of the worst pass defenses last year, he won't be very good in Pittsburgh, which leads me to believe that a lot of people lack the common sense that so easily should lead one to believe that the Arizona Cardinals do not play the same kind of defense as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not only will the amount of talent be marginally better in Pittsburgh, but the zone defense McFadden will be asked to play will suit him perfectly, as it did in his first stint with the team.
Not to mention with him there, it gets William Gay off of the field and that's good enough for Steelers fans everywhere.
Competition Along The Offensive Line
With the news of Willie Colon's injury and the fact that it will keep him out for the entirety of the regular season, the offensive line lost one of its top players.
This isn't a good thing by any means, don't get me wrong. But, looking on the bright side, competition is rarely a bad thing. Especially among a unit that must battle together in the trenches.
It doesn't really matter who wins the battle for Colon's spot. Just as long as it creates chemistry among the offensive line. During the competition, not only will skills improve, but respect will be earned. They'll come to know each other as warriors, and be more than proud to stand alongside each other in battle.
The Running Back Tandem
This is one of the things that I'm most excited for. Simply because while I enjoy the passing attack, I grew up learning to run the ball down the other team's throat all game long.
Rashard Mendenhall certainly came on last season and he's got a new partner in crime, former Yellow Jacket Jonathan Dwyer.
Dwyer brings a power aspect to the table that the Steelers have been lacking since the 2005 retirement of Jerome 'The Bus' Bettis.
If, and this is a big if, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians can come up with a game plan that gets both men involved, preferably in the backfield together, the Steelers could return to their glory days of smash mouth football.
Rookies Ready To Step Up On Special Teams
It's doubtful that many rookies actually see significant playing time on either offense or defense, with perhaps the only exception being the wide receiver position - though even that's unlikely in my eyes.
But, the ever-prevalent special teams is going to need some heavy hitters and sure tacklers after the mess that was last season still making Steelers fans cringe.
Jason Worilds is going to find himself cracking heads on kick and punt returns for at the very least his first year, while also becoming accustomed to playing the rush linebacker position.
Emmanuel Sanders may get a shot at returning kicks and, if he fares well, Stefan Logan may find himself as an expendable roster spot. More than likely though, he gets worked into some four wide packages every now and again.
I, like most Steelers fans, refuse to count out a defense that's coached by the living legend and newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame—Dick LeBeau.
Without a doubt, the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, and perhaps the best (and certainly on the short list) of all time.
I find it hard not to believe that he doesn't offer the secondary a lot of insight and tips, being a former cornerback himself, and when given a true play-making safety to work with, it's a simple recipe for success.
The Steelers may not beat you, but LeBeau will certainly confuse your quarterback and have your offensive coordinator pulling his hair out and throwing his clipboard to the ground.
Another reason I can never count the Steelers out—their fan base.
No team's fans travel like Steelers fans. They fill visiting stadiums with an absolute sea of black and gold.
Not to mention they're loyal to a fault. Granted, they've had it good for the majority of the team's history, but rooting for a great team isn't something you can hold against the fans.
Pride, Heart, Team
The biggest gripe I had with last year's version of the Steelers wasn't the absence of the playoffs, it wasn't the errant special teams coverage and it wasn't the atrocious play calling.
It was the lack of heart.
This team is playing with a chip on their shoulders this year. The fans know it, the coaches know it and most importantly - the players know it.
Have some faith, let the Ben Roethlisberger off-season saga fade into anonymity and let's turn out in full gear for the 2010 season.