As Steelers OTAs begin, separating fact from fiction |
Breakfast With Benz

As Steelers OTAs begin, separating fact from fiction

Tim Benz
Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes during rookie mini camp, Friday, May 11, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers start their organized team activities on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at what is fact and what is fiction. What is real, and what is perception.

1. The quarterback drama has come and gone: fiction

That could be the case. That should be the case. But do any of us actually think that is going to be the case?

No. Because Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t want that to be the case. It’s clear Roethlisberger would’ve preferred his team use its third-round draft choice on a position other than quarterback, and he wants us to know that.

Pittsburgh media defenders of Roethlisberger on this front, ironically, want to blame the media for making too big of a deal of Roethlisberger’s comments.

That’s funny, since Roethlisberger used his personal radio show to make his second-guessing statements of the Steelers selection of Mason Rudolph.

This story is only a “media creation” in the sense that Roethlisberger made his comments through a media outlet.

Roethlisberger has been in this game for 14 years. He knows what to say and what not to say. He knows what he is doing when he says what he does. He meant to float the comments.

If he wants the “media distraction” to go away, the first time he meets the assembled press at OTAs, he’ll embrace Rudolph as a teammate without any passing references to what the team could’ve done with the pick. He’ll take on the notion of teaching the new player without endorsing the idea of pushing him beyond Landry Jones or Josh Dobbs on the depth chart. He’ll promote the idea that he wants to keep playing without condemning Rudolph’s presence as insurance if he doesn’t.

That’s not difficult to do, unless Roethlisberger wants to make it so.

2. The Steelers need to create more pass rush: fact

The Steelers set a franchise record with 56 sacks last year. That’s a bloated stat. Of those 56 sacks, 20 of them came in the two games against Cleveland and one against Houston.

The Steelers treated that second Browns game as virtually meaningless, but they won anyway. Houston’s total of 54 sacks allowed was the second-highest in football. The Browns yielded the sixth-most (50).

Only 17 sacks came from Steelers outside linebackers . That’s a low since 1992. The previous low (19) occurred in 2014 .

Last year’s pass rush was overrated, inconsistent and totally unaddressed in terms of personnel in the draft and free agency.

3. Running back development is a priority: fact

A lot of the blame for the Steelers’ slow offensive start last year was laid at the feet of Le’Veon Bell for being absent during offseason workouts.

Well, he’s not going to be there again this year, it appears.

OK. Then get everyone else at the position ready to chip in, particularly with a new offensive coordinator in place.

That means Stevan Ridley needs to prove he’s more than just a journeyman. James Conner needs to prove he is more than just a good story and that he can get healthy. And Jaylen Samuels needs to prove he is more than just a practice squad mid-round pick.

4. Free safety is the only starting job up for grabs: fiction

But not by much.

For a team with a lot of questions, the depth chart isn’t one. The quarterback, running back, starting wide receivers, entire offensive and defensive lines, outside linebackers, one safety position, at least one corner position and one inside linebacker are set.

Artie Burns will likely start opposite Joe Haden at one corner spot. Cam Sutton could push him, though.

Morgan Burnett is going to be on the field as a starter at safety. If he isn’t, that’s a huge miss in free agency. Sean Davis is still in line to be the other. Rookies Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen could contend, however. Sutton could, as well, if he converts from corner.

If the Steelers start two “true” inside linebackers, Jon Bostic will be the other one next to Vince Williams because, well, there isn’t really anyone else besides special teamers L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich.

Jesse James might start over Vance McDonald at tight end. If healthy, McDonald should emerge as the more primary receiving option. However, both will see significant time in two tight end sets, and James will still get four or five targets per game.

5. We’ll write multiple versions of this before the season starts: fact

Hey, it’s a long offseason. The Penguins didn’t get to the Stanley Cup Final this year. And we can’t trust the Pirates to stay in contention forever, can we?

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