Pause To Review

Jim Wexell looks back at his mid-July camp questions and updates the answers after three games.

On July 13, way back when life was good for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I listed the top 10 questions for training camp.

You may not remember it.

Anyway, I find it useful to look back before moving forward again, and with the bye week approaching I figure Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' brass might want to mull some of this stuff over as well.

So here are the original questions with the updated answers:

10. Punter?

Drew Butler grossed 43.8 and netted 37.8 yards per punt as a rookie in 2012, and his additional strength and weight allowed him to hold off Pro Bowl veteran Brian Moorman at training camp. So Butler made the team, only to get cut the next day when former New England Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko became available.

Maybe the Pirates could've used more Zoltan Power, but Mesko hasn't affected the Steelers' fortunes during this 0-3 start. So far his gross average is 43.4 and his net is 38.1.

For a barely perceptible change from Butler's rookie numbers, and a bit of puffery for the local baseball media, the Steelers have cut their only link to the '85 Bears.

9. Hood or Heyward?

The buzz around the team all spring was an expected one-on-one training-camp showdown between their Nos. 1 picks in the 2009 and 2011 draft for the left defensive end spot opposite Brett Keisel. But the showdown never came to pass. The Steelers never did give Cameron Heyward any time with the No. 1 unit, but as a reserve he's playing better than Ziggy Hood, who actually isn't playing too bad.

Heyward has come on as a force in the passing game. His role has been that of a nickel defensive tackle, but he's also spelling both ends. Prior to the Vikings game Heyward was second only to Keisel (11) with 7 QB pressures.

8. Backups To Ben?

This was certainly a bigger problem on July 13 because Bruce Gradkowski struggled with the offense in the spring. He's since emerged as a competent backup, while fourth-round pick Landry Jones continues to struggle. In fact, the day before the team left for London, Jones threw a lazy, looping down-and-out pass to the struggling Markus Wheaton, who didn't come back for the ball or use his body to shield cornerback Ike Taylor.

Taylor easily intercepted the soft pass and was off to the house. Yet, the question is moot since Ben Roethlisberger has taken every snap.

7. A.B.A.B? (Anyone But Antonio Brown?)

Is there another deep threat? Wheaton, in spite of the cries for more playing time from Pittsburgh's lazier columnists, continues to sputter. And, really, rookie wide receivers often struggle, so there's little reason for concern.

It's probably a good thing the Steelers matched New England's offer sheet to Emmanuel Sanders, who may not be much of a deep threat but is really the only truly reliable receiver Roethlisberger has. As for the return game, there's nobody but Brown.

6. Can Worilds Stop The Run?

Not as well as Jarvis Jones. That's what elicited this question in the first place, because it was assumed that Jones, the rookie first-round pick, would struggle in the run game.

He hasn't. And Jason Worilds, one of the most underappreciated players in recent team history, continues to hold the point and hustle during both defensive snaps and special teams. Even though Jones became the starter in Week 2, Worilds has 3 QB pressures to Jones' 1.

5. William Gay?

There's a running joke between some of the beat writers in town that if one writes the story about William Gay's heretofore quality play, that writer will have to take the full brunt of the masses for jinxing Gay into having the poor games he's been known to have.

Brought in as the third cornerback behind Taylor and Cortez Allen, Gay was forced to start two games and he hasn't been burned, made 17 tackles (fourth on team), with 2 passes defensed (Taylor 0) and a forced fumble.

However, I am now on jinx notice.

4. Marcus Gilbert?

This question mark loomed large then, as it does now. But the name next to 4. should read Mike Adams. Gilbert moved to right tackle after a week of training camp and the left-handed Adams was moved to the all-important blind side, where he has struggled.

Gilbert has his critics because he doesn't finish blocks the way he should, and probably misses the communication from injured center Maurkice Pouncey as much as the rest. But Gilbert has actually been one of the better offensive linemen so far. Of course, Steelers coaches haven't texted me the assignment mistakes in an orderly fashion, so anything I write here remains a guess. But Adams clearly struggled through the first three games with his pass-blocking. No one really should've expected much differently in such a brief amount of time.

3. Emmanuel Sanders?

What Sanders lacks was addressed in a previous question about the lack of a deep threat. But what he possesses makes this question moot as well. Sanders is becoming a team leader with his work ethic and studiousness and precise patterns. Most passes to him are a struggle, though, because he doesn't have distinguishing size or much separation speed. But he's an asset for a team that probably would've just drafted Shamarko Thomas with the third-round pick from the Patriots anyway.

2. How Long Till We Hear H-e-e-e-a-a-a-t-h?

The tight end position was an unmitigated disaster through the first three games of the season. Not only did Heath Miller miss the first two games while rehabbing his knee, David Johnson had more surgery on his knee at the onset of camp, and Matt Spaeth went down with a Lis Franc injury.

Miller caught 3 passes for 35 yards in his first game back and also brought his much-needed blocking skills up front. He'll only get stronger, as, too, I suppose, will the still-gimpy D.J.

Spaeth will return after mid-season, while second-year replacement David Paulson will only be better for all of the playing time he received in those first two games.

1. Is There A Plan At Running Back?

I didn't actually ask for a name here, just a plan for how and when the name of that "bell cow" back would be identified. Well, that back -- rookie Le'Veon Bell -- was identified early in training camp, but he went down with a sprained Lis Franc ligament in his foot and missed the first three games.

Without him, the plan mirrored the plan of last year -- meaning no plan. The Steelers traded for Felix Jones, cut Jonathan Dywer, watched LaRod Stephens-Howling go down with an injury, and tried to see if Isaac Redman could recapture whatever skills allowed him to average 4.5 yards per carry as a backup in 2010-11.

None of it worked, as Dwyer was brought back and immediately became the team's Most Inspired Runner.

Bell probably won't become the MIR until after the bye, when the real Steelers hope to emerge and life might once again resume being as good as it was on July 13.

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