Five Questions for training camp

Ben Roethlisberger receives a pass this year but expect the young quarterback to make our Five Questions list in some fashion for the next, oh, five years or so.<br><br> As a rookie, he's beyond serious examination, but by this time next year he'll rank right up there with the worst of what's to follow.<br><br> These are the Steelers five biggest questions coming into the 2004 training camp:

5. Duce Staley - As bad as the offensive line was last year, there was another reason the Steelers ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing and it was simply a lack of talent at the position. Staley was signed to alleviate that concern, and already Jerome Bettis looks like a quality No. 2 man. In that regard, the addition of Staley is analogous to the addition of an ace pitcher. But when will Coach Bill Cowher make the move to Staley? Cowher has promised Bettis a legitimate chance to win the job in camp, and after last year's debacle of naming Amos Zereoue the starter on a gut instinct, Cowher will be expected to provide Bettis a full opportunity. Will it only muddle the situation? And is Staley still a threat at the age of 29? The Philadelphia Eagles didn't think so last year, but there may have existed a pre-season prejudice because of a holdout.

4. New safeties - Troy Polamalu steps in for Mike Logan at strong safety and Chris Hope steps in for Brent Alexander at free safety. Both bring much better speed to the position, but their combined lack of experience will be a question mark. Neither has started a game and Cowher loves experience at safety, particularly free safety where he's relied on slow-but-experienced players - Alexander and Darren Perry -- throughout his 12 years with the Steelers. The only other free safety to play a significant stretch for Cowher was the young and speedy Travis Davis, who started 15 games when the Steelers went 6-10 in 1999.

3. Outside linebackers - The organization hopes defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can return the defense to the fearsome blitzing ways of his previous tenure, but Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene are nowhere to be found. The Steelers would even take the production Jason Gildon and Joey Porter provided prior to the 2003 season, when they combined for only 11 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 3 fumble recoveries. Gildon has since been released in favor of fifth-year pro Clark Haggans. Porter, who was shot in the rear end last Labor Day weekend, hopes to improve physically. The two terrorized the Western Athletic Conference as bookends at Colorado State in 1998, but, as Toto would tell you, we're not in Fort Collins anymore.

2. Wide receivers - From an overall point of view, the wide receivers certainly don't deserve to rank this high on a list of question marks. However, the whereabouts off the wideouts will be the biggest opening-day question at training camp. Plaxico Burress stayed out of mini-camp and Hines Ward implied he might hold out of training camp because he's unhappy with his contract. The guess is both will report to camp on the first day and Cowher will forgive Burress, but until the receivers report they represent a huge question mark at a thin position.

1. Offensive tackles - You can't win without tackles, it's just that simple. The Steelers proved it last year when they had to move All-Pro guard Alan Faneca to left tackle as a last gasp. Faneca was solid, but the Steelers prefer solid play from Marvel Smith and great guard play from Faneca. Smith's season was wiped out by a pinched nerve in his shoulder/neck area. He was asked in late May if he was 100 percent healthy and Smith would only say "my strength is just about where it was last year." On the other side of the line, Oliver Ross was hurt by Smith's absence and a weakened Kendall Simmons at right guard. Ross remains the line's weak link, but teammates and coaches say (at least publicly) that Ross improved late last season. The only newcomers are third-round draft pick Max Starks and sixth-rounder Bo Lacy, making Smith's return paramount.

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