Considering retirement to Ben Roethlisberger, they will have a fresh starting quarterback for the first time in two decades. His successor will be determined before the season opener on September 11th in Cincinnati.
At least the Steelers know the identity of their general manager after Kevin Colbert’s resignation. Lieutenant Omar Khan took charge and acted quickly to sign a long-term contract with Minka Fitzpatrick and add defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi to replace another retired player, Stefon Tweet.
The Steelers will also have new faces in linebackers (Miles Jack) and Korn Buck (Levi Wallace). Mason Cole and James Daniels are new additions to the offensive line, and George Pickens and Calvin Austin III will compete for roles in the wide receiver.
Here are five camp events to watch as the Steelers prepare for their first pre-season game at a home venue that also has a new name: Acresor Stadium:
1. Who is under the center?
Roethlisberger’s retirement left Mason Rudolph as the most experienced player on the roster. But the Steelers barely stood at the most important position in the game, signing Mitch Trubesky in free agency and drafting former Pete star Kenny Beckett in the first round.
Beckett is clearly the future in the middle. Could it also be the present? That will be decided starting with the opening practice on Wednesday. Beckett ranked third on the depth chart in unofficial drills, with Trubisky getting first-team reps and Rudolph working with the two.
Trubisky’s 29-21 record in his 50 debut is part of what made him so attractive to the Steelers. So did his mobility, a trait that also affects Beckett’s favour. The wild card is Rudolph, who has the most experience in the offensive coordinator system Matt Canada for the second year.
2. Who will start at the left guard?
Although the Steelers brought in two veterans to play in the right and center guard, they would allow relatively young players to compete for the inside left starting point. Kevin Dotson secured the starting position last year, his second in the NFL, but spent the second half of the year in the injured reserve.
Kendrick Green, who started at the center as a rookie, returns to his normal position. He took the bulk of the footage while guarding the college in Illinois. John Leglow, who started six games in place of the injured Dotson, could play a part in the mix and be a capable reserve.
3. Will anyone get a new contract?
The biggest part of the off-the-shelf finances was settled in June when Khan was awarded a five-year contract with Fitzpatrick that included US$36 million and made Safety the highest-paid player in the position.
Wide receiver Diontae Johnson expressed his desire for a new deal before hitting free agency in March. Kicker Chris Boswell can also enter free agency as he nears the end of his five-year contract that he signed during training camp 2018.
Boswell’s base salary of $3.26 million ranks him 11th among kickers this season, and he could reasonably take home the $5 million average salary that Justin Tucker earns. Johnson is a more expensive offer. With the market soaring for the best wide receivers, Johnson could be aiming for $20 million a year, a salary the Steelers would likely be reluctant to give to a player with a 1,000-yard season on his resume.
4. Will everyone report in good health?
Every year at camp, the Steelers open the festivities with a conditioning test. It is used to help determine if a player needs to start the season on a list who is physically unable to perform.
Two defensive players could fall into this category this year. Chris Wormley, who had seven sacks in his career last year, did not take part in team practice at organized team activities and junior camp while dealing with an undisclosed injury. It could be related to the groin injury that troubled Wormley at the end of last season.
Ogunjobi may also not be ready at the start of camp. Ogunjobi injured his right foot in last season’s playoff game with Cincinnati and was unable to pass the physical ball after verbally agreeing to a three-year, $40.5 million deal with the Chicago Bears.
The Steelers signed Ogunjobi to a one-year, $8 million deal in June. Although he has passed the physical examination, Ogunjobi may still need more recovery time after undergoing surgery.
5. Who will take the shots in the back corner?
The Steelers last opened camp without Joe Haden in 2017 when they signed him less than two weeks before the start of the regular season. Haden was a mainstay at left-back for five seasons but remained unsigned at the age of 33.
The Steelers retained Akhilo Witherspoon and signed former Buffalo Bills deals for Levi Wallace to match two-year deals worth $8 million. They also have Cam Sutton who is back for a second year as a rookie, likely overseas.
With his experience playing inside, Sutton can move once again. However, he has mainly played outside in informal training, an indication that Witherspoon and Wallace could compete for one spot. Or Sutton could start out on the first and second touchdown, then move inward in pass positions.
The division of labor—one of coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite terms—is worth watching as the camp progresses.