Hines Ward is gone. James Farrior is gone. Aaron Smith is gone. Bruce Arians is gone. The Steelers will spend their three-plus weeks in Latrobe -- and likely time beyond -- working to figure out not only Todd Haley's new offense but who they are as a team as Mike Tomlin enters his sixth season as coach and Ben Roethlisberger enters his first season as a 30-year-old. Will Mike Wallace report on time? Will No. 1 draft pick David DeCastro step into the offensive line as planned? As always, the time on the fields at Saint Vincent College will be interesting for a Steelers Nation that has been waiting for this week since that stunning Sunday evening in Denver.
The terminology, players said, is the toughest thing to learn. They had classes on it all spring, took home their books to study for the summer and now comes examination time. Todd Haley is the first coordinator hired outside of the organization since Bill Cowher brought in Kevin Gilbride in 1999. The Steelers have had virtually the same offense with the same language for 10 years. But change was ordered and it's time for the offense to be more efficient with all the talent it has, especially when they break inside the 20.
Will he sign his tender and report on time Wednesday? Will he sign a multiple-year contract and report on time? Or, will he do neither and stay away from Latrobe? Hines Ward did it with a contract for two weeks before reporting, although he did it much longer into his career. There also wasn't a new offense to learn then.
Things certainly will be different at Saint Vincent College without Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke and, to a lesser degree, Bryant McFadden, William Gay and Daniel Sepulveda. How the collective lost leadership affects the team may be more a question than how they make up for the lost talent, since most of that has been fading and only Gay has found employment elsewhere.
What used to be hook, line and stinker could become a real asset on offense if things turn out the way the Steelers hope they will -- and how fast that that it is that they do. Ignored high in the draft for years, the Steelers have funneled four high picks over the past three seasons into the line: First-rounders Maurkice Pouncey in 2010 and rookie David DeCastro and second-rounders Marcus Gilbert in '11 and rookie Mike Adams. Add the big move of tackle Willie Colon to guard and the Steelers want to see an opening line, from left to right, of Adams, Colon, Pouncey, DeCastro and Gilbert.
Something new in Latrobe this summer. An honest-to-god fullback; two actually dot the roster. It's a small thing but signals a new commitment to the ground game, something fans at Saint Vincent should see practiced with more gusto. It does not mean they will run more often in games, just that they want to be more effective, make the play-action work more, take more heat off Ben Roethlisberger and be able to pick up those short yards when needed, especially when they're near the end zone. And with Rashard Mendenhall likely to open on PUP after January ACL surgery, Isaac Redman gets the early nod to start.
First Published July 22, 2012 4:00 AM