It all starts up front, and for the Steelers' defense that will be the case when training camp opens with veteran talent mixed in with some exciting, young talent.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward, who will be entering his sixth season, anchors the line and brings the leadership that will be vital for the group.
"When you starting talking about Cam, you have a coach on the field, you have a guy who's a professional," said assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell. "When I talk to my guys, I tell them there's a big difference between being a 'pro' and a 'professional.' A 'professional' does everything. He's on time, he shows up for meetings, and he comes out and works hard. Cam knows the difference between being a 'pro' and a 'professional,' which I like."
Mitchell didn't stop with Heyward. He enthusiastically shared his take on many of the defensive linemen the Steelers will open training camp with.
On defensive end Stephon Tuitt and how much he has grown and developed:**
"It's unbelievable from where he came in when he came out (of college) early. It's definitely day and night. When you had a guy like Cam Hayward here, you had a guy like Stephen McClendon in that room last year, he watched those guys. He patterned himself after those guys. He watched Cam run to the ball, he watched Cam take notes, and now this guy knows what it takes to play in this league on this level. I'm really excited that he's going to have a heck of a football season."
On if it's nose tackle Vince Williams turn to step up:
"During minicamp, the first thing we wanted them to realize is the condition they need to be in, so when we do go to training camp. Two, we wanted to cram them with as much as they can learn. Three, we wanted them to detail their work. And four, we wanted them to learn how to finish. Those things will help you win football games on Sunday. Dan has come back in great shape. He's doing most of those things. I want him to be able to do all of those things. If you do 50 percent of them, we're 8-8. If you do 75 percent of them, we're 9-7. So he's got to do everything.
"Right now I'm pleased where he is. When we go to camp, things are going to be picked up, he's going to have pads on, and he's going to be evaluated a little different."
On rookie nose tackle Javon Hargrave and if his progress or where he needs to be are typical of a rookie:
"He's a very intelligent guy and he hasn't made a lot of known mistakes. Right now he doesn't know what it means to be in good football shape. Two, he doesn't know how to finish. Three, he's got to learn how to run to the ball. Right now I'm really pleased with where he is in the mental aspect. Physically, he's not even close, but I'm hoping by the time we come to training camp he knows what it takes to be in great physical condition and can run after the ball play after play, down after down, and be successful.
"The* *speed of the game is a lot faster, there are better athletes. I told him this, 'I went to Alabama and when we played Vanderbilt, we felt pretty good that we could beat Vanderbilt. There are no Vanderbilt's in the NFL.' Every week there is someone, and I'm not trying to take anything away from Vanderbilt, but we had better athletes than they did at the time. But that's what I want them to realize. Every snap you take you're going to be playing against the best, so you've got to be at your best."
On veteran free agent defensive end Ricardo Mathews and what he brings to the defense: * *"I was really surprised about him. I didn't know a lot about him and went and watched him on tape. He's a guy that once he learns what to do, he has the ability. He's been in this league for seven years, he knows what it takes. He's made some plays in this league. I'm really excited about him. I want to go to camp with pads on and see if his personality matches up with that I saw on tape."