Extreme Makeover: Pittsburgh Steelers Edition

To say that the 2012 season was a disappointment in Pittsburgh would be an understatement. Perhaps no other franchise has been as accustomed to winning as the Pittsburgh Steelers organization—save maybe the Patriots or the Packers. After finishing with a meager 8-8 record a season ago, the Steelers are looking to revert back to their winning ways in 2013.

One of the biggest changes coming to the Steel City is the defensive scheme. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is looking to pressure opposing quarterbacks more than in previous seasons. At the ripe old age of 75, the highly-talented LeBeau is looking to put more of an emphasis on defensive end pressure, rather than letting the outside linebackers get all the glory. I guess you can teach an old coordinator new tricks.

For now, it is currently unclear whether this change is being made due to the lack of depth at linebacker or the plethora of defensive lineman on the roster. Maybe it’s just a way to confuse the opposition? Regardless, it appears that Pittsburgh will be changing around a defense that finished in the top-10 in most statistical categories a year ago. For you Steeler fans hitting the panic button, LeBeau isn’t unaccustomed to re-tooling his defensive strategies. In fact, when LeBeau’s system wasn’t working years ago, the zone blitz defense was born in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh also enters the 2013 camp with something that they have not had in a number of years—an influx of fresh, NFL-ready talent.

While terms like “old” and “aging” were constantly thrown around Steeler headquarters last season, the team addressed the issue with a flurry of roster moves in the off-season and with the addition of another excellent draft class. The release of aging players like James Harrison, Charlie Batch, to make way for guys like rookie Jarvis Jones and other young talent shows a willingness to infuse youth into a veteran-laden roster.

Le'Veon Bell
Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell will be heavily relied upon this season.

The biggest impact coming into Steeler camp hands down belongs to rookie rusher Le’Veon Bell. The second-round draft pick out of Michigan State ran rampant throughout the Big Ten and garnered the reputation as a workhorse during his collegiate career. At 6-foot-1 and 244-pounds, Bell can bring back the power run game that the Steelers so desperately were lacking in 2012.

After finishing with just 1,537 yards rushing and 8 total touchdowns last year, the top current rushers on the roster, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, may have fallen out of favor with Head Coach Mike Tomlin. For comparison, Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns—by himself for the Spartans. With the team featuring a new zone-blocking scheme, talented offensive linemen like Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro should be opening up some rushing lanes for Bell out of the backfield.

Though Bell has not played a single snap in the NFL, his draft selection alone should fuel what will be one of the most-watched training camp battles of the upcoming season. He is already being called the “real deal” by experts close the team, and fans should expect to see him line up behind Roethlisberger in week one.

One final takeaway from Steelers camp is the luck in avoiding the injury bug thus far into the season. With other teams have lost a number of talented players to the entire 2013 campaign already, Pittsburgh has remained under-the-radar from an injury perspective. Just over a week into camp, the team has only suffered a rash of minor injuries. Surprising since coach Tomlin has been running physical, hard-hitting training camp sessions.

“It’s just appropriate in today’s NFL,” said Tomlin. “We have off days. We only get a chance to practice once a day. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to sort themselves out. We’ve got some young guys. We’ve got to sort through a lot of young guys and we’ve got to take advantage of opportunities to show improvement. That is what it is about.”

Coach Tomlin seems relatively pleased with his team thus far, and is hoping to set the tone for what looks to be a physical 2013 season of football—exactly what you would expect from one of the hardest-hitting teams in the league.

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