With a 1 p.m. against Green Bay on tap today at Heinz Field, the Steelers do have their worries as the 2015 season approaches, and the top three are on the defensive side of the ball:
3.) Safety -- Undrafted rookie RB Jawon Chisholm found a hole the other day and went 85 yards on the first snap of the Team Run period. Chisholm, who'll be nothing more than a practice-squad back next month, ran through the safety tandem of Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas like they were standing still. And this was off a sketchy performance by the safeties in Jacksonville.
With Troy Polamalu off to join Ryan Clark in retirement, the Steelers have to start all over again on the back end, and Mitchell and Thomas have yet to instill confidence.
2.) Run Defense -- Last year the Steelers allowed their worst per-carry average in 50 years, and this year they want to do more penetrating with their defensive linemen as opposed to their old two-gapping schemes that were designed to stop the run. As the transition on defense begins, this area could get worse before it gets better.
1.) Pass Rush -- New defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that as the Steelers transition to the Chuck Noll-influenced "Tampa 2," he wants to do less blitzing and get more pressure from the front four. But other than 37-year-old James Harrison, the Steelers have no pass-rushing threat off the edge. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree are the hopefuls, but nothing more at this point.
OF COURSE ...
Just to be fair, the top three bright spots for the Steelers this preseason are:
3.) Le'Veon Bell.
2.) Antonio Brown.
1.) Ben Roethlisberger.
No details are necessary to describe what statistically last season was the greatest set of triplets in league history.
Tight end Heath Miller was asked if these three -- and the development of freakishly talented WR Martavis Bryant, not to mention Markus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams -- will be a benefit to his game as the savvy veteran works the middle of the field.
"Yeah, we have a lot of playmakers," said Miller. "You would think we should have some continuity, because everyone was together last year. The offensive line all comes back. The coaching staff is back and all doing the same stuff, and adding to it. You would think we should be better, but we've got to put the work in, we've got to be on the same page, and we've got to play as a team. And defenses are going to be scheming against us, you know? That always adds another challenge."
Of course, that kind of grounded approach is why most call him The Great Heath Miller.
While we're doing this list thing, let's review the top team's top three sleepers as the Steelers move from St. Vincent College to the South Side of Pittsburgh to complete their preseason:
3.) Ian Wild -- The safety-turned-linebacker also long-snaps and was the No. 1 personal punt protector (fullback) on the punt team before Robert Golden returned from an injury. And if you need him to play lacrosse, he can do that too. He went from Baldwin High to Erie's Mercyhurst University so that he could play both lacrosse and football and he led the lacrosse team to the national championship with the game-winning goal and MVP trophy in the 2008 title game. After two years in the CFL, Wild is in camp and blowing up ballcarriers. He's either a big safety or a small linebacker, and no doubt a football player.
"The most intriguing about him was his special-teams background," said Mike Tomlin. "He’s a football player first and a position guy second, similar to a lot of our guys. But, he’s an above-the-line special-teams player."
2.) B.J. Finney -- The undrafted center out of Kansas State has been a fixture on the second-team line ahead of other notables such as Reese Dismukes and Miles Dieffenbach. Finney has played both right and left guard on the second line and could challenge Chris Hubbard for a roster spot if the Steelers decide they can't keep two interior reserves along with Cody Wallace. On a down side, Finney was asked to lose weight over the summer and lost only two pounds. His play has overcome any disappointment about that.
1.) Kevin Fogg -- Our Sleeper of the Spring has carried his ballhawking ways into the summer. He ranked well ahead of the rest of the team's defensive backs in camp interceptions, and added two this week, one he returned for a touchdown during the final practice. He also has the only interception in the Steelers' two preseason games.
"He makes plays on the ball and has a can-do attitude," Tomlin said. "I really think he’s displayed a consistent mental toughness that you value. We will continue to give him quality looks so he can display his talents."
GOLSON DONE FOR YEAR
The Steelers have known since the start of camp that second-round pick Senquez Golson required shoulder surgery, but they kept the news to themselves in order to keep the young cornerback in the loop. Golson underwent surgery this week and will likely be ruled out for the year.
"Being a young guy and being in this environment, we thought that a lot could be gleaned from that and thought that it could be a great experience for him, whether or not he was participating," Tomlin said. "That’s why we waited to get the surgery. He’s been in this setting and been in the meetings and been wired in by being an active participant. Hopefully these couple weeks have been beneficial to him but as we exit here. We thought that it was appropriate to go ahead and get that fixed so we did."
Earlier in the week, Tomlin was asked if Timmons' injury might be significant since Wild had to be moved from safety to join the inside linebackers.
"I wouldn't tag 'significant' on it," Tomlin said. "I like Lawrence, so I'm going to take care of Lawrence."
After revealing the nature of the injury Friday, Tomlin said, "I am not overly alarmed with his turf toe but he hadn’t practiced this week," and thus ruled him out along with RB Josh Harris, WR David Nelson, ILB Vince Williams and WR C.J. Goodwin.
Tomlin added that "Williams is really starting to get close with his hamstring," before Williams practiced Friday in shorts.
After two preseason losses, the Steelers are putting more urgency into today's game against the Packers. Not only did the Steelers practice in shorts on Friday, they had "look" teams running the Packers' plays off cards against the first and second teams this week in practice.
As for the duration of the starters, Tomlin said, "We are going to look to play the first wave of guys more than we did a week ago."
Tomlin said that Roethlisberger will start at quarterback and be followed by Bruce Gradkowski -- who will make his first appearance of the preseason -- and then Landry Jones.
"We have to be able to prepare and show that preparation from a detailed standpoint, and from the execution of a game plan standpoint, relative to what we anticipate from an opponent," Tomlin said. "Those types of things are going to be what makes this interesting and that are going to make this outing a little bit more significant"