How will Pittsburgh fill the huge holes left by suspended stars Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant?
After losing center Maurkice Pouncey for all of 2015 with a broken leg in the preseason, then watching their late-season surge stop short in the divisional round thanks to another wave of injuries, a fair goal for the Steelers this summer would have been to make it to Week 1 in one piece. They couldn’t even break camp before learning that Le’Veon Bell would be serving a four-game suspension for a missed drug test, on top of the year-long suspension wideout Martavis Bryant was hit with in March. That counts as an inauspicious start.
Pittsburgh is better positioned than most to fill holes that big—DeAngelo Williams stepped in admirably for Bell last season, and the Steelers have stockpiled receivers to support the incomparable Antonio Brown—but there will be a recalibration process in Latrobe as a team many pegged to be a Super Bowl contender tries to circle the wagons against any additional attrition.
The Rookie: Pittsburgh grabbed defensive backs with its first two picks of the draft, and second-rounder Sean Davis will be squarely in the mix for a starting safety spot from the first day of camp. Davis’s five forced fumbles in his final season at Maryland were the second most in the nation in 2015.
Position battle spoiler: Third-round pick Javon Hargrave has the talent to push Daniel McCullers and bring some versatility to the interior of the Steelers’ defensive line, but training camp will give the Steelers a much better sense of his learning curve after he dominated FCS at South Carolina State. McCullers should come out of camp with the job, but Hargrave may not be too far behind.
The stat: 13, the number of carries Williams received in the preseason last year as the Steelers prepared him to fill in during Bell’s two-game suspension to open the season. That number probably won’t be topped this year as Pittsburgh prepares the NFL’s oldest active running back for a four-game stint carrying a starter’s workload at 33.
Preseason Watchability Guide: After a disquieting preseason, the 2015 defense jelled into a quietly respectable unit once the games started counting. That said, the secondary will be a point of emphasis, especially for however long Drew Brees stays on the field when the Steelers head to New Orleans in Week 3.