You don't have to spend even an hour on the verdant hillsides of Saint Vincent's natural amphitheater to realize that the 2012 Steelers will be improved substantially in at least one area, mostly because there's at least one area in which it's virtually impossible for them to be worse.
It's a somewhat arcane football skill partially related to the inevitably capricious bounces of an inflated prolate spheroid, but somebody should be able to fall on the thing once in a great while, don't you think?
Particularly large athletic people trained in the defensive arts.
The Steelers recovered four fumbles last year.
Secondary coach Carnell Lake once recovered five in a season by himself. Jack Lambert seven. Rod Woodson recovered three in one game as did 14 others throughout NFL history.
In a game against the Cleveland Browns Oct. 23, 1990, the Steelers recovered eight.
Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu sprained his foot the other day walking to the Wal-Mart. His phone indicated he'd walked 3 miles. For all we know, in all that time, he might well have recovered a fumble.
"I think you always have to be conscious of the football," said Troy Polamalu, who tweets regularly about matters requiring a higher consciousness. "You can't score without it. That's what this game is about, possessing the football. It's not about stopping the run or the pass; it's getting the ball.
"I think people should keep that in the forefront of their minds."
While the 2012 Steelers are shifting some things around in their minds, they might note that four fumble recoveries are the fewest around here since at least 1945, prior to which Steelers turnover records are sketchy, especially those recently found on cave walls in rural Spain.
But it's not just the historic dearth of recovered fumbles you struggle to get your head around, it's the 15 total takeaways last season. For perspective on that, consider that in the strike-shortened nine-game autumn of 1982, the Steelers had 25.
The 2011 Steelers played 17 times through the first week of the playoffs. In 13 of those games, they had either no takeaways or just one.
"Turnovers come in bunches," defensive line coach John Mitchell was saying after lunch Wednesday.
Unless, of course, they don't.
"We've run this defensive scheme around here for a long time now," Mitchell said. "Teams have had a long time to figure out how to neutralize some things we're doing, so sometimes, you have to give the other guys credit.
"We looked at that [minus-13 turnover ratio] during the offseason, and in most cases it was just a play here or a play there. When you bring pressure the way we do, you're always hoping the offensive is going to make a mistake where someone will come free and pop the ball loose, but our schemes aren't designed for someone to come scott free. You've got to beat somebody.
"We can scheme to the point where our guy has to be handled with a single block, but we didn't beat a lot of single blocks last year."
There's a rapid bit of revisionist history being written on this defense, which already is hampered by the departure of William Gay, James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke. It had its No. 1 rating, to be sure, but this first week of camp has the rhetorical theme of evident defensive failings that need to be corrected: not enough takeaways, not enough sacks, not enough internecine reliability against the run.
This all follows not only January's defensive meltdown in Denver, but an entire season that was statistically anomalous.
Here's just one head-scratcher:
In '10, the Steelers had 35 takeaways to their opponents' 18. That team won 12 games and lost four. In '11, the Steelers had 15 takeaways to their opponents' 28. That team won 12 games and lost four.
"That's odd, right there," said cornerback Ike Taylor, whose modest total of two interceptions last fall tied him for the team lead with Polamalu and the departed Gay for the team lead. "We didn't get a lot of turnovers, but I can't really put my hand on why. They say they come in bunches, but [for] whatever reason they didn't.
"It comes with hitting and it comes with being in the right place, but it doesn't always come."
Still, the idea that a positive turnover ratio no longer even matters runs too violently against the game's orthodoxy. You have to get turnovers, if not always for turnovers' sake, then for the momentum you absorb from them, the momentum you vacuum from the opponent.
The only thing more certain about the turnover conversation is that you'll get a bunch of people who'll tell you that turnovers come in bunches, except when they don't.
"Turnovers come in bunches," Polamalu said.
"Last year, there were no bunches. Hopefully, we can do things to seize the opportunities we have to make interceptions, fumbles, whatnot."
That might be the answer, mixing in about a half-dozen whatnots I mean.