The Pittsburgh Steelers open training camp on July 26 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
They need one of his best seasons of his 15-year career, for starters. The Steelers are relying on their 37-year-old veteran to offset the loss of serious weaponry. Roethlisberger has a way of elevating a supporting cast — 11 different receivers have caught at least 100 passes in Pittsburgh’s offense during the Big Ben era — and he needs Vance McDonald, James Washington or someone else to become No. 12 soon enough. Expect Roethlisberger to rely on his no-huddle offense, mixing a quick-strike passing game with run checks at the line. He led the league with 5,129 passing yards in 2018, and don’t be surprised if he contends for 5,000 once again.
Which Steelers veterans will get an extension before the regular season starts?
Four key defensive players — Joe Haden, Sean Davis, Mike Hilton and Javon Hargrave — each enter camp with one year left on their contracts. With $1.148 million in cap space, the Steelers might need to restructure veteran contracts to make the money work. Haden is a likely candidate. His $11.916 million cap number for 2019 makes his new deal more palatable, and he was one of the Steelers’ best players last year. Hargrave and Davis are young, talented and reasonably affordable. Hilton, a two-year starter, hasn’t signed his exclusive rights free-agent tender, which means he can’t report to camp without a signature or a new deal.
Who is a veteran who could be in jeopardy of losing his job?
The roster is mostly set, but a few uncertainties remain, most notably cornerback Artie Burns, who’s due an $800,000 roster bonus on the third day of camp. The former first-round pick plans to rebound after his 2018 benching, in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. The Steelers have their strongest corner depth in years and should employ a six-man rotation entering Week 1. After missing seven field goals and five extra points last year, Chris Boswell‘s $4.2 million cap hit could make him expendable, save for a strong preseason.
Where will rookie Devin Bush be in the Steelers’ defense Week 1?
Over the middle as the starting inside linebacker, but that doesn’t mean veteran Mark Barron is out of the mix. The Steelers can find room for Bush, Vince Williams and Barron, a free-agent addition who has safety experience. Stout play at camp will ensure Bush’s playing time, but he showed his elite athleticism in offseason workouts and should have no problem adjusting, especially in pass defense. The stage is set for an 80-tackle season.
How will JuJu Smith-Schuster handle the anticipated Year 3 leap?
Smith-Schuster is aware that secondaries will be designed to stop him with bracketed coverages. He’s ready for it, and the Steelers believe his football savvy will help him get open often despite the loss of Antonio Brown. But he’ll need Donte Moncrief, James Washington and the supporting cast to help to loosen up one side of the field. The offense is at its best with multiple options thriving at once.