After emerging from their most recent St. Vincent/South Side preparatory exercises, it can be argued the Steelers are a better team than they were at the close of last season. What that means in terms of where they're ultimately headed this season will begin to be revealed Sunday night in Denver. But as far as starting points go, and hey, everybody's gotta start somewhere, progress has been made and the Steelers are ahead of the game.
It starts up front. Even without David DeCastro and Mike Adams starting on the new-look offensive line that was so enthusiastically anticipated, the swap of Willie Colon for Chris Kemoeatu and the presence of Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert as older, wiser, more experienced former Florida Gators should produce an improved unit.
The running back position is likewise potentially better than where it was last January, even as Rashard Mendenhall continues to rehab his way back.
Baron Batch is healthy this time around. Jonathan Dwyer has been good enough that he's on the verge of altering the pecking order in the backfield in Mendenhall's absence. And Chris Rainey has continued since the spring to demand attention and impress upon getting it.
There's also a new fullback-type hybrid emerging, one that might not get Mendenhall blasted by Clay Matthews if it comes to that again.
At wide receiver, a healthy Emmanuel Sanders ups the ante.
At linebacker, Lawrence Timmons may yet begin to resemble a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he can only remain inside.
And the secondary ought to be much better, given the improvement of Keenan Ivory Lewis and the maturation of Cortez Allen, and perhaps even Curtis Brown. It could be argued, in retrospect, that no one had a better preseason than Lewis given how hard he was pushed by Allen. Both players are better for a competition that likely still hasn't ended.
So how will all of that translate?
The defense ought to be the defense, given the track record of the significant participants. It might even sack the quarterback and turn the ball over with a little more regularity while proving typically tough to score against.
The offense ought to be able to run the ball a little bit better and a little more consistently and in the process keep the quarterback for the most part upright. And if that happens, the quarterback ought to be a lot healthier when the Steelers finally reach the postseason than he was last December and January.
For these Steelers, that would mean everything.
Todd Haley is here for the most part because of the Steelers' desire to make it to the playoffs with a quarterback that hasn't been duct-taped together. And Ben Roethlisberger's obvious, if somewhat reluctant, acceptance of Haley's methods of getting from here to there might make all the difference toward that end.
The season that's about to commence remains less than a certainty because that's just the way it is, because for the Steelers and for every other team in the NFL health will continue to be the predominant issue.
For proof of that check the depth chart of the Green Bay Packers, a recent Super Bowl champion and in the perception of many a favorite again this season. As backups along the offensive line The Pack lists two players, tackle Don Barclay, a non-drafted rookie from West Virginia, and Evan Dietrich-Smith, a third-year pro and a former non-drafted rookie from Idaho State.
The Packers are as desperate to stay relatively healthy as the Steelers.
If the Steelers can pull that off, a great deal appears possible.