Steelers Training Camp Opens With A Crack

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Monday, July 30, 2007
By Mike Spell
Steelers Fever Columnist


That sound you hear is not Joey Porter landing a right to the face of Levi Jones. It is the sound of pads popping. Football is back! As training camp FINALLY opens, a few questions have been answered, but many more abound. We see that the Steelers front office has decided it was wise to lock up one of the game's best young safeties, Troy Polamalu, rather than risk alienating him or letting him hit the open market. And they have not done the same with fellow Pro Bowler, Alan Faneca. Faneca has reported to camp on time and vows to play hard the final year of his contract although he is very public in his displeasure over negotiations. I am guessing that he will play well as a dip in performance could cost him millions.

The Steelers were able to hammer out a deal with first round pick Lawrence Timmons before camp began. Kudos to the front office as training camp is crucial to the development of rookies. It is much harder to crack the starting lineup when the coaching staff cannot see how well you perform let alone when you are adjusting to a new playbook and the speed of the game. It is thought that Timmons will play on passing downs and rush off the corner, infusing speed and energy into a defense that is starting to show some signs of aging. Second round pick Lamar Woodley is also being counted on to provide some extra juice to a underachieving pass rush. Both are expected to be special teamers as well.

The Steelers added two free agents of note this past off-season: guard/center Sean Mahan from Tampa Bay and running back Kevan Barlow of the Jets. Both solid moves as both players have had some success in previous stops. It will be interesting to see how both players will fit on the depth chart. Mahan figures to be a factor in the competition at center as the Steelers look to replace the retired Jeff Hartings. Mahan could be the man in the middle or could end up playing guard if Kendall Simmons is moved over. Chuky Okobi is also a possibility to fill the center position. Time will tell. Barlow figures to battle Najeh Davenport for the number two spot behind Willie Parker. Davenport has a history of injuries while Barlow has been known as a bit of a whiner, particularly during his time with the 49ers. One of these players needs to step up and provide a change of pace to the speedster Parker.

There will be a few big names that will not be in black and gold come this fall. Besides the noticeable absence of Bill Cowher on the sideline, literally the face of the franchise for the past fifteen seasons, is the absence of linebacker Joey Porter. Porter was cut and signed with the Miami Dolphins. Porter is a player whose best days are behind him and this move created the opportunity for the younger guys to show their stuff.

It will be interesting to see how the team responds to the new coaching staff, particularly the new head coach, Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has already had the team hitting in pads much earlier than the team is used to. Tomlin does seem to have the players' attention and respect thus far. My gut feeling is Tomlin has what it takes to make it as a head coach. He comes across as confident but not cocky. And he is not making bold predictions, which also shows the influence of his coaching mentors like Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, two Super Bowl champions. It remains to be seen how well the team will do in working in the 4-3 scheme with the more familiar 3-4 that the Steelers have run with great success the past twenty years.

Dick LeBeau is still the defensive coordinator so there is no reason to worry about a significant fall on that side of the ball. Ken Whisenhunt is no longer the man in charge of the offense as he is the new head man in Arizona, taking respected offensive line coach Russ Grimm with him. Bruce Arians, the receivers coach, has been promoted to coordinator. He promises a more focused offense with more multiple receiver sets. Considering Big Ben is coming off a disappointing campaign last season, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Of course, the biggest part of training camp and the pre-season is making it through without injuries. Here's looking forward to what promises to be a very entertaining month and hopefully a promising season.