Checking It Twice

Upon reaching the familiar ground that is St. Vincent College, the Steelers will find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Or so it seems.

The perception of the Steelers in many instances appears to be that another long year is at hand, that there are too many question marks, not enough depth and not enough firepower for 2013 to work out much better, if any better, than 2012's disappointing 8-8, non-playoff campaign.

Those projections of gloom and doom are out there, not that Heath Miller is paying much attention. "It's about the process," Miller insisted. ‘I think every team can sit here at this time of the year and say, ‘We have good enough players to be a good team.' I think they all feel good about themselves this time of year. You have to come together and buy into the system and jell as a team."

That process begins in earnest at training camp.

Here's a short list of what to focus upon as the Steelers take their first steps toward becoming gelatinous:

* Ben Roethlisberger: He's still a franchise quarterback entering his 10th NFL season. But Roethlisberger is also a guy who threw four interceptions in three games last December. In response, Roethlisberger began working out one week after last season ended.

The goal this year is to play 16 games and better a 2012 that saw Roethlisberger throw 26 touchdown passes, 8 INTs and post a passer rating of 87.0 in 13 games. Should he accomplish that the Steelers won't be 8-8.

* Developing offensive line depth and establishing offensive line staying power: "We have to develop some backups, that's my biggest concern," said new position coach Jack Bicknell Jr.

"My biggest concern is developing some of these backups so you're at least able to have seven on game day and then the eighth if you need him."

This might not be achieved until other teams begin cutting guys.

* Le'Veon Bell: He can run and catch and be a three-down back. But Bell won't be that unless he can also block.

Having their No. 2 pick establish as much should include a steady diet of battling LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons and anyone else the Steelers can throw at Bell during the always-anticipated Backs-on-Backers drills.

* Troy Polamalu: It's worth repeating that in the final two games of the regular season the defense produced 7 turnovers, 10 sacks and allowed a combined 20 points. All of that occurred while Polamalu was making his fourth and fifth consecutive starts following a stretch that saw him miss seven consecutive games and nine of 10.

* Cam Heyward vs. Ziggy Hood: Even if Troy stays healthy, better defensive end play opposite Brett Keisel wouldn't hurt. Heyward might provide it if he can feature a little more assignment discipline and a little less rage in his game

* 4 x 12: There are four players on the roster entering their 12th NFL season: Plaxico Burress, Keisel, Foote and Ryan Clark. That's pushing it in terms of longevity in the NFL. And much will be expected from all four once again this season (Keisel, Foote and Clark as starters and Burress as a veteran, reserve/presence at wide receiver).

* How They Finish: By definition we'll have to wait until December on this one. But it bears remembering the Steelers were 7-5 after beating Baltimore on Dec. 2 in Baltimore with Charlie Batch at quarterback. Somehow, they lost their next three games. Miller hasn't forgotten.

"Down the stretch we certainly weren't playing our best football, for whatever reason," he said. "We gotta figure out, we gotta be a team on the rise, as Coach (Mike) Tomlin says, when it matters.

"Early in the year we were playing pretty decent offensively. Going forward this year we gotta be a team that gets better every week."

Starting this weekend.

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