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Thread: Steelers under scrutiny

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    Default Steelers under scrutiny

    May 19, 2010
    Steelers under scrutiny
    ALAN ROBINSON Associated Press

    PITTSBURGH — [HIGH-LIGHT]These might be the most-scrutinized May practices in Pittsburgh Steelers history.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    The team resumed its voluntary offseason workouts on Tuesday without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He remains banned from attending, and there is no indication when the NFL will allow him to participate.

    “I’m waiting for word from New York like everyone else,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’m not going to speculate until I get that word.”

    For now, Roethlisberger can only join his teammates on the golf course, and he played a charity event with them on Monday.

    [HIGH-LIGHT]The Steelers aren’t certain if the league will allow Roethlisberger to attend any of the remaining 11 spring practices, which run each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through June 10.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    On April 21, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the two-time Super Bowl winner for the first six games of the season and also ordered him to undergo a behavioral evaluation following a March incident in which a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. The case will not be prosecuted.

    In Roethlisberger’s absence, Byron Leftwich took most of the snaps with the starters, just as he has since being reacquired by Pittsburgh in a trade with Tampa Bay last month. Leftwich was the backup when the Steelers won the Super Bowl 15 months ago.

    [HIGH-LIGHT]There’s no sign from Tomlin that Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon will get similar work with the regulars. Tomlin promises only that there will be a clearly defined depth chart when training camp begins.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    “I don’t believe it’s an effective approach to go into camp with a pure, open quarterback competition, if you will, a three-headed quarterback battle,” Tomlin said. [HIGH-LIGHT]“We’ll go in with a pecking order, and the opportunity to show what you’re capable of will be based on that pecking order. All three guys will be given an opportunity, but not an equal opportunity.”[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    [HIGH-LIGHT]Training camp will be unique because the Steelers will have two starting quarterbacks to prepare – someone for the first six games and Roethlisberger.

    By giving so much time to one quarterback, the Steelers are trying to prevent a significant drop-off in timing, execution or consistency when Roethlisberger isn’t in charge.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    “Ben’s been in that huddle a long time now,” Leftwich said.

    “He’s been that guy for a long time. But the circumstances that exist, someone has to be in there, so I’m going to work my tail off and try to be the guy. He’s going to miss those games, and someone’s going to have to play. My mindset is I’m the guy, that we don’t miss a beat.”

    With the Steelers coming off a 9-7 season in which they were good at the start, good at the finish and mystifyingly bad during the middle, they want to get off to a good start and put 2009 behind them as quickly as possible.

    To Leftwich, that’s why these seemingly routine-as-it-gets May practices are important.

    [HIGH-LIGHT]“Especially for a lot of the guys Ben has played with a lot of years, there’s chemistry there,” Leftwich said. “That’s why it’s important for the guys that’s here to come in and don’t miss a beat. That’s our whole plan, to get into the huddle, command the huddle.”[/HIGH-LIGHT]

    Ben or no Ben.

    “It’s hard to go into a season without your star quarterback,” said wide receiver Hines Ward, who didn’t practice Tuesday because of a sore hamstring. “Our motto is not going to change; our mentality is not going to change. We’ve got one goal, and that’s to try to win. The guys who are here now, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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    Default Re: Steelers under scrutiny

    Ben Roethlisberger's absence not only issue for Pittsburgh Steelers

    By Alan Robinson (CP)

    PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Their US$102 million quarterback isn't around now, and he won't play at least until October. The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in an unprecedented situation, preparing for a season that will open without their suspended star.

    If that was their only problem, perhaps the Steelers' off-season wouldn't seem so hectic, unsettled or disrupted, but it's not. Not even close.

    There are numerous unsettled issues on both sides of the ball as the Steelers go through a month's worth of spring practices, and not all of them are likely to be resolved by the time training camp arrives. Or the season, either. Or by the return of Roethlisberger from a six-game suspension that has disturbed nearly every aspect of the Steelers' springtime preparation.
    It's not just that they're auditioning three quarterbacks for a starting job at a time when nearly every NFL team has that issue settled. Or that the receivers aren't working with the man who will primarily throw them the ball. It's a lot more than that.
    Santonio Holmes didn't help, either.

    Holmes and all the assorted problems he brought may be gone, and the Steelers don't have to deal with the former Super Bowl MVP's off-field issues. The downside to his departure is that it's thinned the Steelers' depth at wide receiver and eliminated their most productive downfield threat.

    Mike Wallace was an effective No. 3 receiver as a rookie and significantly upgraded the Steelers' speed. But, as Hines Ward said, there's a big difference trying to get open on every down — as Wallace now must do — as opposed to doing so once or twice a series.
    "We've got plenty of time for that to sort itself out," coach Mike Tomlin said.

    Willie Parker is gone, too, and while injuries helped cost the three-time 1,000-yard running back his starting job last season, his absence leaves the Steelers without a proven backup to Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall has not gone a whole season from start to finish as the No. 1 back.
    "I think he (Mendenhall) is capable of a lot more, to be quite honest," Tomlin said.

    While Mewelde Moore has been a capable fill-in runner at times, Jonathan Dwyer might be one of the NFL's most valuable sixth-round draft picks if he can make an immediate contribution.
    And their six losses in which they failed to hold leads last season, mostly because their secondary repeatedly failed to slow opposing passing games in the fourth quarter? To address that, the Steelers brought back former starting cornerback Bryant McFadden, but he was traded by Arizona because he caused a near-identical problem there.

    There's also the issue of protecting Roethlisberger — or, for at least the first month of the season, protecting Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch.

    The Steelers' pass protection issues aren't likely to go away when Roethlisberger returns, or because they drafted lineman Maurkice Pouncey in the first round. Their 50 sacks allowed last season were second in the NFL to Green Bay's 51.

    The offence is looking much different this spring, and not only because Roethlisberger is barred from taking part in their workouts.

    Offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians is showing off more two-back looks than usual, an apparent response to team president Art Rooney II's proclamation that the running game — especially near the goal line — must be better. Last season, the fullback role was effectively filled by tight ends.

    The Steelers might not have had so many blown leads, especially during their season-altering five-game losing streak late last season, if they had run the ball better near the goal line during their 9-7 season. Their only reliable goal-line runner was Gary Russell, and they let him go without explanation.

    There's the age factor, too, another worry as the Steelers prepare for a season in which nearly all of their key defensive starters will be 30 or older. They weren't the same defensively last season after safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith were hurt, and no off-season preparation can prevent disruptive injuries, especially to the oldest and most-experienced players on a team.

    "I'm not a fortune teller. I don't know how the season's going to go," Ward said. "That's what is uneasy, the uncertainty."

    Copyright © 2010 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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