On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers host their preseason opener against their Super Bowl XLV opponent. Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain was kind enough to answer some questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Everyone knows what the Steelers have in standout wide receiver Antonio Brown. What do they have in their other wideouts, and who do you expect to have the most productive season after Brown?
The Steelers are pretty loaded at the wide receiver position entering 2015, but not all receivers are known commodities like Brown. Second year WR Martavis Bryant exploded onto the scene and is expected to make a big impact this season. He picked up where he left off in 2014 as he capped off an impressive opening drive for the Steelers in last week's preseason game against the Jaguars with a 44-yard touchdown reception. Who is often forgotten in the mix is third year receiver Markus Wheaton. Wheaton is a much more polished receiver than Bryant, and is expected to move to the slto in three wide receiver sets. Throw in rookie Sammie Coates, who is having a decent training camp, and you have yourself four solid options at the wideout position. As far as production, I would think Bryant's big-play ability will have him second on the team in yardage from the wideout position.
APC: Pittsburgh lost multiple longtime members of its defense this offseason. Defensive backs Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retired, and the team severed ties with Hall of Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau. How have the Steelers replaced these important cogs, and how have they performed thus far?
You don't replace a player like Troy Poalmalu, you just hope the next man up is capable to play the position. That unfortunate job will fall on Shamarko Thomas, and although Thomas has a lot to prove, all he needs to do is be himself. There might never be another Polamalu in my lifetime, and Thomas would be wise to just play his style and stick to his game. As for Taylor, the team will look for Cortez Allen to return to form, and if he can't, recently signed Brandon Boykin will be asked to fill the role of outside cornerback, which Taylor occupied for over a decade in Pittsburgh. Keith Butler, who was the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh, was promoted to defensive coordinator, and the move is a smart one. He will bring with him fresh ideas and philosophies which can hopefully change the defensive culture back to the standard of expectations in Pittsburgh.
APC: With Le'Veon Bell set to miss the first two weeks of the season, do any of the other tailbacks look like capable replacements?
The Steelers brought in DeAngelo Williams from the Carolina Panthers for this reason, and Williams looks ready to handle the load. Don't underestimate the chip on Williams' shoulder as he has been told he in injury-prone and can't play anymore. Williams will not just carry the load in Bell's absence, but looks to be a more than capable backup throughout the seasons.
APC: Landry Jones has attempted all but three passes for the Steelers during the preseason. Will that change significantly on Sunday, or does the team plan to use Jones almost exclusively once more?
The Steelers will play their starters, including Ben Roethlisberger, for more than one drive against the Packers Sunday, which will cut down on Landry Jones' repetitions. However, after cutting Tajh Boyd earlier this week, it looks to be Jones who will get the majority of snaps for the Steelers at Heinz Field. Bruce Gradkoswki, the primary backup to Roethlisberger, was taken off the PUP list earlier this week but is targeting next week's game against the Buffalo Bills for a return.
APC: Which Steelers might be unknown outside of Pittsburgh that Packers fans should keep an eye out for?
As far as the game Sunday goes, watch out for Sammie Coates. He is a rookie and is expected to get a lot of playing time in the preseason and has shown steady improvement for the first two games this preseason. If Coates is going to contribute in 2015, he will be getting more playing time and has some big play ability.
We'd like to thank Jeff for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over at Behind the Steel Curtain as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Steelers. As always, keep your Internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Steelers vs. Packers.