Camp Questions

It's here, Christmas in July, otherwise known as Steelers training camp. It's a time of hope, but also a time of questions, camp questions. No team is immune. Not even the Steelers.

This weekend every columnist from Harrisburg to Youngstown, from Beckley to Erie, will provide their readers with a list of the top camp questions for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as my momma always said, the first one you read is always the best. So here it is:

10. Will Jerrod Johnson unseat one of the veteran QBs?

It's a minor issue, but what would any training camp be without some quarterback intrigue? Johnson was my prediction for No. 1 overall pick after his junior season, but he returned to school, hurt his arm and hasn't been the same. Considering the release of Troy Smith, it's possible the Steelers saw something in Johnson this spring.

9. Can the new blocking tight end block?

Sure, Leonard Pope is 6-foot-8, but he's been a liability as a blocker at that height. At the February combine after Super Bowl 43, then-Kansas City coach Todd Haley was asked why his Arizona running game struggled against the Steelers. "Our tight end got thrown around a little bit," Haley said. That tight end was Pope.

8. Will Jeremy Kapinos hold on to the punting job?

The Steelers bid adieu to injury-prone Daniel Sepulveda because Kapinos proved effective twice as Sepulveda's replacement. But one of the Steelers' undrafted rookie gems this year is Drew Butler, the son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler. Kapinos held the edge for most of the spring, but Butler closed fast. It'll be an interesting competition.

7. Does Larry Foote have enough left to play buck linebacker?

And if not, can Stevenson Sylvester learn the position after missing half the spring with an injury? And if not, is rookie Sean Spence stout enough to play James Farrior's old position?

6. How long will it take the offensive line to come together?

Most will have this ranked as a greater concern, but, really, I saw Super Bowl 43. I watched Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton start on that championship line. So, no, I'm not worried about David DeCastro or Willie Colon playing guard or whether Max Starks will have to play left tackle again. I'm just not.

5. Can Ziggy Hood's play match his physique?

The 2009 first-round pick hasn't shown much yet, but he's become the leader of the young defensive linemen because of his ferocious work ethic. Hood has bulked up while slimming down this offseason, and his athletic feats are all over the Internet. But will this former 4-3 attacking tackle finally show that he's a read-and-react 3-4 end?

4. What about the open spot at wide receiver?

Nope, I'm not talking about Mike Wallace. There's very little question he'll play this season. That might be question mark No. 47 if I were to go that deep (just ahead of Ben Roethlisberger learning the offense). I'm worried more about seventh-round pick Toney Clemons having a clear shot to the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Not that Clemons wouldn't be deserving, because he had tremendous moments this spring. But there really should be more competition for the job.

3. Can Chris Rainey take the pounding?

Few are worried about Isaac Redman replacing Rashard Mendenhall because, after all, most Steelers fans have watched Redman play. And Jon Dwyer will provide quality depth behind Redman. The concern is Rainey. Yes, he's just a fifth-round rookie, but he's heightened the staff's expectations with his beep-beep speed and quickness this spring. And with those expectations come responsibility. But can the 178-pounder take a hit? Or 10?

2. Are James Harrison's back issues behind him?

And if so, what about that knee that caused him to miss most of the spring? A bigger question might be the depth at OLB because in 2013 Harrison will be 35 and making about $6.6 million. He'll be watched closely this year because of those numbers, but Jason Worilds's wrist injury has become a concern.

1. Will Troy Polamalu return to form?

Oh, his form last season was just fine. It was his out-of-shape and downright stiff showing this spring that was alarming. At 31, can he pull it together the way he did when he was 27? He says it'll be no problem. We shall see soon enough.


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