PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-5 in 2020)
CAMPSITE: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
LAST YEAR: The Steelers had a franchise best 11-0 start in their fourth AFC North title since 2014. QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 33 touchdowns on his return from right elbow surgery that shortened his 2019 season. Rookie WR Chase Claypool was sensational at times to make up for the worst rush attack in the league. The NFL’s third-placed defense led the league in sacks for the fourth straight year but weakened towards the end of the season. Everyone else too. Pittsburgh went 1-5 by the wayside and culminated in a blowout playoff loss to Cleveland.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Najee Harris, OG Trai Turner, TE Pat Freiermuth, C Kendrick Green, OL BJ Finney, QB Dwayne Haskins.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, LT Alejandro Villanueva, LB Bud Dupree, CB Steve Nelson, DB Mike Hilton, TE Vance McDonald, RB James Conner, LB Avery Williamson, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.
STORAGE NEEDS: Roethlisberger took a pay cut to return for an 18th season. He will manage to play behind a completely redesigned offensive line. Pouncey retired, DeCastro was cut and Villanueva went free. The three teamed up for 17 Pro Bowls. Their successors’ collective résumés are thin by comparison, except for Turner, who signed up just hours after DeCastro was released in June. The offensive also has to adapt to Matt Canada, who was promoted after Fichtner’s release in January. For a team with a brutal schedule and the usual sky-high internal expectations, there’s a lot of moving parts to figure out.
MOST IMPORTANT CAMP COMPETITIONS: The offensive line is a bit of a mess. Green is focused on the future, but if he’s struggling during camp, JC Hassenauer and Finney have proven capable. Most of the other starting positions on either side of the ball are set injury-free. Alex Highsmith will take over Dupree as the outside linebacker across from TJ Watt. Devin Bush is returning from a knee injury, as is Vince Williams, who was cut and then re-signed on a lower salary. In the second row, Cam Sutton replaces the effective but expensive Nelson. Punter Jordan Berry faces Pressley Harvin III from the sixth round of the draft pick.
EXPECTATIONS: Roethlisberger didn’t come back so he could be celebrated with rocking chairs visiting the stadiums, which could be a farewell tour. The Steelers believe their window is a legitimate Super Bowl contender will stay open as long as it’s behind the middle. A running game that was bolstered by Harris’ arrival would certainly help take the pressure off a short passing game that became way too predictable after Thanksgiving. Canada turned out to be a wizard working next door at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. The Panthers averaged 40 points this season. If he can find a way to get the Steelers to around 30 on a regular basis, that should be enough given his talent in defense. The training camp is about installing and getting to know the unknown, something that isn’t often done in a franchise that has long lived on continuity.
FAN DUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +4400
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