Craig Wolfley is the color analyst on Steelers Radio Network broadcasts. His opinions do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
I stood at the window in my kitchen, pouring myself a cup of coffee, looking outside into the backyard. Without really thinking about what I was saying, I mumbled absent-mindedly to my wife Faith, "I'm a week out from going to camp." In years gone by, that being my playing days, such an utterance would have avalanched a cascade of misery on me, especially so with a full week to dread reporting to camp. But then I experienced a comforting thought that flooded through my gourd. "Remember. No one can hit me, and no one can make me run."
It's funny though. I've said the very same thing countless times over the years. The being "one week out part." Both as a player, and as a broadcaster. Personally, for me, it was a psychological jumping off point in acknowledging the off-season was over, and pain was in the forecast, as a player. As for the getting hit and running part, well, it's an equally comforting reminder that I have served my time in hellacious Chuck Noll training camps many years ago. As long as Marty McFly and his time jumping "Back to the Future" DeLorean don't show up between now and the start of camp, I've got no worries.
So when I look at the Steelers return to Saint Vincent College, and a return to training camp in a truly training camp atmosphere, I'm fired up to watch the competition begin. Because "competition" is where this year starts. And here's what I'm thinking.
BRAWLING BEEF-A-LO'S. Fat is where it's at, and the numero uno competition that I want to see is amongst the Big Shaggies up front, staking out their territory in the trenches. Kendrick Green. Mason Cole. Kevin Dotson. James Daniels. Dan Moore. John Leglue. JC Hassenauer. The list goes on. I can't wait to watch this position group evolve and gel. Maybe we'll see more man-blocking schemes rather than just zone blocking schemes. Young lineman mean healthy, strong low backs. Healthy, strong lower backs translates to man-moving ham hock power at the point of attack. And maybe rolling back the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball, in a power based running game. To go a step further, I can't help but think a dash of Fullback now and then, would help.
LIFE AFTER BEN. What's that going to look like? When you lose a Hall of Famer, you lose more than just the guy wearing the number. All those 18 years of game brains, knowing how to win, and flat out greatness are suddenly going to be absent from the huddle.
So then, we can all surmise that things gotta change. Maybe level out the run/pass ratio. More under center action, maybe? Move the pocket, change the view for the QB's, misdirection, rollouts, and MAYBE some old fashioned PLAY-ACTION? How's about some real Dennis Green (former head coach of the Vikes and Cardinals) screen game schematics? Green was well known to run great screens in his offense.
WHO'S GONNA LINE UP WITH CAM? Who's going to take that big step forward and join Cam Heyward in holding the point up front in sub-package football? Stephon Tuitt's retirement opens the door to a number of possibilities. Isaiahh Loudermilk? Or will Chris Wormley continue to grow in his role? Rookie input in the form of DeMarvin Leal? Tyson Alualu is back and is some of the answer that plagued the run defense last year. Let's not forget the high quality play of Montravius Adams either. And maybe the most perplexing of all, why aren't the Steelers winning more one-on-one battles up front? When the Steelers had tackling issues a few years ago, Mike Tomlin instituted more live tackling drills. Could there be a return to a drill that resembles "Oklahoma," (a one-on-one highly competitive, almost gladiatorial run blocking drill that used to be an institutional right-of-passage on the first day of pads in my day) without being called "Oklahoma? More questions than answers.
IS THIS THE YEAR CHASE CLAYPOOL HITS THE NEXT LEVEL? Ever since this young man caught my eye by scoring a TD and then turned around on the ensuing kickoff and made the tackle, I keep thinking he's going to soar and hit superstar status. We've seen flashes. Absolutely. He's got Swann-like close-quarter athleticism, coupled with the go-route deep threat of John Stallworth, ran routes like Louis Lipps, and demonstrated physical toughness ala Hines Ward. Heady stuff for a young man. But to get your name up there with those guys, you gotta do it, year in and year out. I'm thinking this could be the year where this young man takes his game to some rarified air.