Subtexts for Steelers Training Camp 2008

Long before the run test the offensive line, special teams, and the defensive line were the established story lines for Training Camp 2008. As if on cue, Casey Hampton failed the run test and Daniel Sepulveda tore an ACL, underlining the urgency of these areas.

Nonetheless, there are several smaller, but still significant, questions lurking below the radar screen in Latrobe.

Is Mike Tomlin Too Chummy With His Coaches?

Given the team’s horrendous special teams in 2008, the question is not whether Bill Cowher would have fired Bob Ligaschesky, but would he have announced it at the post-game press conference or waited until the next day? Mike Tomlin retained Ligaschesky, concluding that was the root of the problem lay in Pittsburgh’s lack of special team stand outs and not schemes.

It’s true. The Steelers 2007 roster did want for special teams studs. But, as Joe Starkley pointed out back only weeks after Tomlin’s hire, Ligascheksy’s track record as a special teams coach could generously be described as mediocre. Pittsburgh’s 2007 special teams weren’t simply sub-par, they were a critical weakness.

During the 3-0 start, the papers were awash with stories describing how Steeler assistant coaches were basking in autonomy that been unheard of in during the Cowher years. Autonomy is fine, but it goes hand-in-hand with accountability. Case in point:

  • Whose decision was it to keep James Harrison off of the kick off coverage team until the second half of Jacksonville playoff game? If Tomlin signed off on this then the error’s on him, if Ligascheksy did it on his own, then he made a serious mistake.

Tomlin regularly cites Tony Dungy has his formative influence. But Dungy, like his own mentor Chuck Noll, often found himself unable to part ways with assistants that deserved the boot. Tomlin chose continuity over change for his coaching staff during his first off season. That’s fine, as long as he’s ready to shoot and ask questions later during 2008.

Do Tomlin and Bruce Arians Philosophies Clash?

Since the day he was hired Mike Tomlin has espoused a love for “attrition football.” Music to the ears of Steelers Nation. However, Bruce Arians signaled a desire for an offense that stresses the pass more upon his promotion to offensive coordinator

The Redskins of the 80’s, the Cowboys of the ‘90’s, and yes, the Steelers of the late 70’s, showed that power football up front and passing downfield do indeed mix. But long before Dan Kreider fell to injury, Arians had begun phasing him out.

  • Kreider’s bruising style should have been brought to the forefront, given the Steelers weak offensive line in 2007.

While the Steelers’ stable of running backs might end up being envy of the league, it remains to be seen if their offensive line is stout enough for Smash Mouth Football. Therefore, it’s possible that any philosophy clash between Tomlin and Arians will not surface in 2008, but it is a situation that bears watching.

Is Carey Davis a Legitimate Fullback?

Coaches gave the starting nod to Carey Davis over Kreider last year because of Davis’ ability as a ball carrier and pass catcher. Davis was supposed to give the offense more flexibility.

  • Davis contributed little to either the running or passing games, and his blocking was clearly inferior to Kreider’s.

Yet it is Davis, and not Dan Kreider who hold’s the team’s lone fullback slot at St. Vincents. The evolution of Arians’ offense, plus the potential for a pony backfield of Mendenhall and Parker, might render this question moot, but Carey Davis has a long, long, long way to go to show he can fill the shoes once occupied by the likes of Merrill Hoge, John L. Williams, Tim Lester, and the aforementioned Dan Kreider.

For Whom the Waiver Wire Tolls…

Circumstances conspired to prevent the Steelers from nabbing lineman with their premium picks. The Steelers also failed to find good value on the free agent market, save for the signing of center Justin Hartwig. (Despite Tribune-Review writer John Harris’ campaign Anthony McFarland’s behalf.) Both the offensive and defensive lines still need help.

That leaves the waiver wire.

While plucking gems off of waivers is less common in the free agency era, and its certainly not the way you want to fortify your team. But it’s the only option the Steelers have.

Kevin Colbert boasts an excellent record with undrafted rookies and “street free agents.” So if the Steelers start scrounging around the waiver, it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, in fact, it could turn out to be a net positive. Keep your eyes peeled for unexpected personnel moves around the league. You’d better beleive that Colbert & company will be doing the same.

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