Prisuta's Fourth & Goal: From OTAs to Latrobe

SCI.net's Mike Prisuta examines the spectrum of bullet points that will test the Steelers at the upcoming training camp, starting with the optimism over Trai Essex.

One of the guys talked about as having distinguished himself during the Steelers' annual football-in-shorts sessions was Trai Essex.

Essex's position at right guard became tenuous at best upon the drafting of Maurkice Pouncey. But Essex was said to have performed during OTAs like a guy who was determined not to just give his job away.

Then Willie Colon happened.

Now it appears there's a more than reasonable chance Pouncey plugs in at right guard and Essex also starts at one of the tackle positions (assuming nothing happens with Flozell Adams, who checked out as starter-capable during a recent visit with the Steelers).

For Essex, 2010 might play out as another opportunity to become a true player as opposed to merely a member of the team, a goal Essex had identified prior to last season.

He'll be a Motivated Marine at St. Vincent College, which isn't a bad thing.

* The two draftee receivers, third-rounder Emmanuel Sanders and No. 6b pick Antonio Brown, can run.

That the Steelers are going to need one of these guys to run and catch when getting clobbered is a distinct possibility.

The approach in the passing game in recent seasons has been to deploy a couple of burners with possession-types Hines Ward and Heath Miller. Initially the burners were Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. Then last season it became Holmes and Mike Wallace.

Now it'll be Wallace and either Sanders or Brown; one of the two drafted rookies figures to dress on game day.

One, thus, will also need to play an under-rated but critical role in the passing game this season beyond how the numbers add up.

* It would be an overstatement to say Justin Hartwig will be fighting to retain his starting job at center this summer, but it isn't a stretch to suggest Hartwig could lose it. Doug Legursky, working with the first team while Hartwig rehabilitated a shoulder injury, was another guy, say sources, who emerged from football-in-shorts sessions as having distinguished himself.

It's all relative, of course, but there's more confidence in Legursky these days than ever.

* The defensive line will be two-deep across the board this season, at least.

* It's going to be all about Ben Roethlisberger once he's re-instated from suspension, and the embattled QB will be scrutinized like never before.

But given the changes that are destined to occur up front, the uncertainty at wide receiver and running back (who's No. 2?), and the potential philosophical shift back to a renewed emphasis on the running game, it'll be more about the players around Big Ben than Big Ben in terms of whether the offense succeeds or fails than it's ever been.

In my opinion, Roethlisberger will respond and star. But the question is: Will he have enough help?

* Thanks to the off-season travails of Roethlisberger and Holmes it was open season on the Steelers there for a while. Everyone had their say and took their shots.

The players swallowed hard and rolled with it, but there was also a palatable sense of anticipation at the conclusion of OTAs regarding the upcoming season. The Steelers' most resounding answer to their critics will come through their play, and the players know it.

As a result there are more than a few who can't wait to get back at it and start winning again. Essex won't be the only Motivated Marine this summer at SVC.


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