The Steelers were ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, pass defense and points allowed in 2011, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley still wonders how.
"The ranking was high and I don't even think we played good defense last year," Woodley said. "We didn't get that many turnovers, we didn't get to the quarterback that much, so I don't know how we were ranked that high. If we were ranked that high last year, we're definitely going to make some big stuff happen this year."
Indeed, the Steelers ranked 17th in the league with only 35 sacks and dropped to eighth against the run last year. They also were last in the AFC with only 15 takeaways.
But part of the reason was injuries to their two Pro Bowl outside linebackers -- Woodley and James Harrison, each of whom have registered double-digit sacks the previous three seasons.
Woodley missed six of the final eight games and played sparingly in three others because of a severe hamstring tear. And Harrison missed five games -- four because of a fractured orbital bone and another due to an NFL suspension.
"We gave up a lot of big plays at crucial times," Woodley said. "If we want to be a great defense we have to cut out giving up big plays.
"Overall the defense has got to get better. There's no particular person or no particular area -- just overall as a defense, we've got to get better."
The Steelers practiced on their artificial turf field for the second day in a row because the grass fields are still soggy.
And that's one of the reasons they held wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was bothered by bone injuries in his foot last season, out of practice.
Sanders said the artificial surface creates more pounding on his foot.
"We're trying to stay ahead of the curve with him," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've been working down here on the turf and I just want to preserve him."
Cornerback Keenan Lewis sustained an AC sprain, or dislocation, of the right shoulder in the afternoon practice and did not return.
Rookie guard David DeCastro, their No. 1 pick, and tackle Trai Essex each had minor ankle injuries, Tomlin said.
The players are off today and don't return to practice until Tuesday. Tomlin said the injuries are day to day and "hopefully" those players can return then.
Fans coming to watch training camp this year will have much more to do. In addition to viewing afternoon practices, "The Chief," a play by Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier and Rob Zeller, will run until Aug. 19 at Saint Vincent Summer Theater. Tickets are limited. For more information call, 724-537-8900.Steelers