Steelers Training Camp Questions

It’s been far too long since there’s been NFL football around to talk about, and even if the stories that the media is touting these days are merely time killers, it’s a real pleasure to see training camps open once again.

Although the Tebow circus may have shifted the national spotlight to New York for Jets’ training camp, there’s still been plenty of attention focused on the Steelers up in Latrobe. Accordingly, here’s a quick breakdown of the stories that Pittsburgh fans should (and shouldn’t be) keeping an eye on.

Now, the most recent news out of camp is regarding Big Ben’s shoulder. He recently revealed that he tore his rotator cuff in November of last year and is still recovering from the injury.

As someone that has suffered this very injury, I can say from experience that it is certainly no picnic. However, I am not a professional athlete, nor am I as resilient as Roethlisberger is, and this very minor story has taken on a life of its own in recent days as the media tries to latch onto any vaguely interesting storyline in the doldrums of summer. All his teammates agree that Ben looks absolutely fine, and most importantly, the quarterback has repeatedly downplayed the significance of the injury.

If he didn’t show any ill effects from the injury last season when it first occurred, there’s certainly no reason to worry now that he’s had a long offseason (thanks to the Broncos) to rest his shoulder. If we were talking about a brittle signal caller like say, Michael Vick or Matthew Stafford, then this might be cause for concern. But Roethlisberger is a guy that’s dealt with every conceivable injury in his career- be they knee injuries, emergency appendectomies or even concussions- yet barely missed any time at all. It’s never great news to be hearing injury stories about your starting QB in August, but in Ben’s case, I’ll believe it’s affecting him when I see it.

The more concerning, yet less covered, injury news relates to James Harrison. Harrison was recently placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for the start of training camp for a nagging knee injury, which should be disturbing news for any Steelers fan.

Anyone that watched last season’s defense had to notice how differently the unit played performed without Harrison, or even with a banged up Harrison, compared to how dominant they were with him in 2010. While LaMarr Woodley is certainly a force in his own right, it’s too easy for teams to focus on him without number 92 across the field from him.

Linebacker coach Keith Butler recently said that he doesn’t expect Harrison back for at least two weeks, with his target date being the third preseason game on August 25th. Considering how little Harrison was able to get on the field last season, it’s crucial that he gets some reps before the opener, provided he can even stay healthy enough to make it back.

This news about Harrison’s health becomes even more disconcerting when coupled with the fact that Jason Worilds, the backup ROLB, is also out with a wrist injury. He wasn’t perfect when he filled in for Harrison last year, but he did at least see the field quite a bit, and the news that he could be out even longer than Harrison is quite disconcerting. His backup, Chris Carter, got some playing time last year as well, but he definitely seemed overwhelmed at times, so it’s crucial that one of the first two players on the depth chart can make it back. Besides, given all the turnover in the linebacking corps this offseason, the last thing the team needs is any more uncertainty at the position.

However, all this talk of linebacker depth isn’t what drives the general public’s attention. Instead, it seems like the bulk of Steelers’ training camp news involves the one player that isn’t currently in Latrobe: Mike Wallace.

Everyone has been panicking about the Wallace situation recently, but anyone that pays attention to the team knows that Antonio Brown was the one that the team had to have. Many were surprised when Brown signed his five year, $42.5 million extension with the team, but it always seemed as if Brown was the priority over Wallace.

A lot of people worry that Brown’s contract might have pushed Wallace out of the long-term picture, and while that may be true, in the short term, this is what’s best for the team. Yes, Wallace hasn’t reported yet, but this is largely just posturing on both sides; Wallace isn’t going to turn down the $2.7 million he stands to make this year and the team isn’t going to break their promise to only begin negotiations once he reports to camp.

Wallace may want to try to force a trade, but that’s foolhardy on his part. The Steelers know they’ve got him for this year at least, and if he wants to lose the money by holding out, that’s his prerogative, but the team can try and sell him on staying over the course of next year, and then shop him if he proves resistant to their overtures. Basically, in the short term, he’s not going anywhere, no matter when he reports.

And I have a feeling the long term prospects for him aren’t nearly as grim as some would make them out to be. The Steelers recognize his value, even if they see that Brown’s all-around skill is more valuable than Wallace’s elite speed, and they’re willing to negotiate.

They’ve found ways to negotiate big deals in the past while up against the salary cap, and they might just be able to scrape together an offer for Wallace. It might not be the biggest offer he’d see on the table, but it’s hard to deny the allure of playing for a franchise like Pittsburgh and a quarterback like Roethlisberger.

No matter when Wallace joins the rest of the team, there will still be plenty to talk about. Next up comes the preseason games, the most meaningless and capitalist exercises in all of football, but I, for one, can’t wait.

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