Steelers Gear Up for Another Run

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to open their training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on Friday and once again the club is optimistic about making another run at getting to the Super Bowl. <br><br> This is the 37th consecutive year the training camp will be held at Latrobe and there is good reason to be optimistic, but there are also several things to be concerned about.

First and foremost among the concerns is improving the team's pass defense. Opponents shredded the Steelers' secondary last season as the Steelers fell from number 4 against the pass in 2001 to number 20 in 2002. Pittsburgh surrendered 1,103 yards through the air in the last three games, including two playoff games; that has to improve and Coach Bill Cowher knows it must improve.

"We had some people who, frankly, said when they play us, ‘We're not going to even try to run the football'," Cowher said.

There are not a lot of new faces. The only important addition to the defense is rookie strong safety Troy Polamalu, the number one draft pick from Southern California.

The improvement will come hopefully from different defensive schemes. Also a healthy Kendrell Bell at linebacker will be a big boost for the defense and the pass rush.

Another concern is Tommy Maddox at quarterback, yes he had a marvelous season a year ago, but it was only one year and he doesn't have a proven track record - was it an aberration?

The return of a healthy Jerome Bettis would be a big plus. Bettis looked healthy and ready to go in the pre training camp workouts. He had the second-fewest yards in his 10-year career last season rushing for a meager 666 yards because of a knee injury. Does Bettis have some gas left in the tank? We will see as camp unfolds.

Another question mark is Marvel Smith's move to left tackle. Pittsburgh bet $26 million dollars that Smith will make the transition and be a solid left tackle.

The Steelers got a pleasant surprise when kicker Jeff Reed came in late last season and made 17 of 19 field goal attempts. Was it a flash in the pan, or is Reed the real deal?

This is virtually the same team Pittsburgh had in training camp last season. Pittsburgh reminds me a little of Bum Phillips' old Houston Oilers - they tried to kick in the door and reach the Super Bowl for several years, but couldn't do it. The Steelers are back for another run at kicking in that door and they are capable, barring any disastrous injuries, of making a run to the Super Bowl. The window of opportunity is still there, but that window is starting to close. The Steelers are getting older. There will be eight starters in their 30's.

George Von Benko

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