The Pittsburgh Steelers are once again a team in transition. Failing to make the playoffs in 2012, the Steelers decided on one hand to cut the aging James Harrison. On the flip side, the decision to let Mike Wallace test the free agent market meant they brought a familiar face— Plaxico Burress—back into the stable.
Expectations for the Steel City’s proud franchise in 2013 are once again high. With a talented draft class that included Jarvis Jones and Le’Veon Bell among others, the Steelers have once again reloaded.
Yet are the Steelers still good enough to compete with the likes of Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North? Here are the five most pressing questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers as the head into training camp this year:
1) Can the team keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy for the entire season?
The Steelers thought they had solved their pass protection issues last season when they drafted David Decastro and Mike Adams. Yet the worst case scenario happened when Roethlisberger went down in a week 10 victory over Kansas City. While Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch performed adequately in his absence, the proverbial damage was done, as Pittsburgh would lose five of its next seven contests.
If the Steelers are to return to the playoffs this year, they will need Big Ben at 100% for the entire season.
2) Will Le’Veon Bell be the answer for the Black and Gold at running back?
Ever since Rashard Mendenhall went down with a leg injury a couple of seasons ago, it has been trial and error for the team in the backfield ever since. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey… it doesn’t really matter, the results have been the same.
Yet there is reason for optimism in the Pittsburgh backfield this season, and it all begins and ends with Bell, the power running back from Michigan State they drafted in the second round this year.
3) What kind of value will the team get from Plaxico Burress this year?
Letting go of wideout Mike Wallace turned was more than just a wise financial decision. Ultimately he was an off-the-field distraction the team didn’t need.
On the flip side, the decision to bring back Burress, who had some of his best days wearing Black and Gold, at age 35 was a curious one at best. If Burress can provide even 60% of the value he once had, Pittsburgh may have made another shrewd deal.
4) When will Mike Adams be ready to return to the field?
Adams, the Steelers second round pick out of Ohio State last season, was a victim to stabbing earlier in the year. If he can’t return before the start of the season, the other options at right tackle aren’t very promising.
5) Do the Steelers have what it takes to compete with Baltimore and Cincinnati this year?
With guys like Roethlisberger, Polamalu, and Woodley the Steelers will be a force to reckon with in the AFC North no question. But with both the Ravens and Bengals having solid drafts this year, the road to the division crown won’t be easy.