And haven't I made a habit of that lately?
Well, I'm in List Mode again. Hopefully, some actual writing will occur between the hashes here; or at least by the start of training camp, because I really need to get back in a groove.
Anyway, I present to you this list of the top 10 Steelers question marks heading into training camp. As always, to heighten the drama, I'll work from least important to most, starting with:
Nothing like a flat-out cage match to determine a position at training camp. The incumbent in this derby is the young guy, 24-year-old Drew Butler. He grossed 43.8 and netted 37.8 yards per punt as a rookie last season. His challenger is 37-year-old Brian Moorman, who's been to two Pro Bowls and grossed 44.8 and netted 37.6 last season for the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers' new special teams coach, Danny Smith, coached Moorman through his first three seasons (2001-03) in the league at Buffalo.
9. Hood or Heyward?
To follow up on that mano y mano theme, the position the great Aaron Smith relinquished in 2011will be contested this camp. Left defensive end will go to either No. 1 draft pick, Ziggy Hood (2009) or Cameron Heyward (2011). For this end spot – opposite the offense's strong side – stopping the run will be paramount.
8. Backups To Ben?
This spring, Bruce Gradkowski looked too small, Landry Jones looked too sore-armed, and John Parker Wilson looked too inaccurate. It was ugly enough that this problem could rank in the top 5 on this list. But, Gradkowski might yet rise to Charlie Batch's standards, which really weren't all that high anyway.
7. A.B.A.B? (Anyone But Antonio Brown?)
Will the team's best and most valuable receiving threat have to return punts again? Surely, Mike Tomlin wants someone else but Brown back there. However, roadrunners LaRod Stephens-Howling and Reggie Dunn look like kickoff returners only. Emmanuel Sanders and rookie sixth-round pick Justin Brown are the only others with punt-return experience, but if they're going to use a starter they may as well use A. Brown, and J. Brown has a long way to go to make the roster, let alone field punts.
6. Can Worilds Stop The Run?
I don't see right outside linebacker as a showdown between Jason Worilds and first-round pick Jarvis Jones, because I doubt the coaches will trust Jones to even try to stop the run. But can Worilds? He's almost 20 pounds heavier than Jones, and has more experience, so if Worilds does a reasonable job, we'll only see Jones on special teams and occasional third downs.
5. William Gay?
OK, I get the part about them wanting Cortez Allen to start in place of Keenan Lewis at left cornerback. But coaches have convinced us that they need three starting-caliber cornerbacks and I just don't see Allen-Gay-Ike Taylor as a better threesome than Allen-Lewis-Taylor. But the players sure are excited about the return of Gay, and that has to mean something.
4. Marcus Gilbert?
My gut tells me Mike Adams is a better long-term left tackle prospect than Gilbert, but Gilbert has a year on Adams and Adams was horrible in pass protection at right tackle last season (after replacing the injured Gilbert). So I have no problem with Tomlin choosing Gilbert over Adams to replace Max Starks at left tackle this year. But I can't forget that Gilbert sure looked a lot better at RT than LT in college, and I can't help but think that each tackle is a natural at the side he's not playing right now.
3. Emmanuel Sanders?
I questioned why the Steelers drafted him so high (third round) in 2010. And I questioned why the Steelers didn't let him go to New England for a third-round pick this off-season. And then I watched this past spring as he struggled to get much separation from cornerbacks. He is smart, versatile, shifty, and sure-handed, so maybe I'm wrong about the guy. But it's time for him to prove me wrong.
2. How Long Till We Hear H-e-e-e-a-a-a-t-h?
With a questionable threat opposite A. Brown at receiver, the availability of tight end Heath Miller becomes even more important. He tore an ACL in the 2012 finale and says he's on the way to a full recovery. But when?
1. Is There A Plan At Running Back?
Remember the frustration last season of seeing a new running back just about every week? And no one could sufficiently explain why so-and-so was starting over so-and-so and why so-and-so was in the which-em-a-call-it role? What the heck was going on around here? Well, Tomlin didn't reveal much of a plan this past spring, either. Jonathan Dwyer opened as the No. 1, but Isaac Redman finished as the No. 1. And second-round pick Le'Veon Bell probably has more talent than either. But the question in my mind isn't so much who starts, but do the coaches have a plan? That's not too much to ask, is it?