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5 Questions Facing the Steelers

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Every NFL team is faced with a number of questions entering the summer. Here are five questions facing the Steelers before OTAs and minicamp.

1. Can the offense stay healthy?
Health has been a major concern for the Pittsburgh Steelers—last season in particular. In 2015, the Steelers saw injuries to star players like Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell, Kelvin Beachum and Ben Roethlisberger (twice). While they still managed win a postseason game, prior to the injuries to Bell and Roethlisberger, the Steelers offense was on a record-setting pace. With the majority of the band back together, 2016 has the potential to be no different. With spring workouts and OTA’s not far off, those will be the first step in determining the current state of health for the Steelers.

2. Will the secondary be improved?
The Steelers finished toward the bottom of the NFL in 2015 in passing defense. With departures of Cortez Allen, Will Allen and Brandon Boykin, the secondary needed some help. The first two draft picks brought new faces in to compete for a starting job and rectify the problems from a year ago. The competition is only getting better at wide receiver, and an improved secondary will be crucial to the team’s success in 2016.

3. Will the offense suffer without Martavis Bryant?
Bryant was developing into one of the league’s top young wide receivers. He brought dynamic play to the Pittsburgh offense, and became a popular target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Bryant hasn’t gotten over the 1,000-yard receiving mark, but his 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games in 2015 served notice that he was on the cusp of a breakout. He has yet to play a full season in the NFL, and 2016 would have been his first opportunity. From a production standpoint, teammate and replacement Markus Wheaton had roughly the same output (749 receiving yards and five touchdowns), but he also played in all 16 games. That’s the type of playmaker the Steelers will be missing in Bryant. However, there are still plenty of tools surrounding the offense, and the Steelers live by the “next man up” mentality.

4. Is this the final opportunity for Jarvis Jones?
It is safe to say that Jones hasn’t lived up to the expectations he had coming into the NFL. In 2013, Jones’ rookie season, he finished with 40 tackles and one sack in 14 games (eight starts). A trip to the IR shortened his second year in the league, and resulted in the Steelers bringing James Harrison back. Harrison had a productive year in Jones’ absence, recording 5 1/2 sacks and 45 tackles. Jones worked back from his injury, and in 2015 had his best season, at least statistically, ending the season with two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Despite his relative improvement, Jones has underperformed. The Steelers declined to pick up the fifth year option on his rookie contract, which could mean the end of Jones’ days in Pittsburgh following the 2016 season.

5. What can be expected of James Harrison?
James Harrison has announced his plans to return for the 2016 season, posting a photo on Instagram of himself with the words “I’m Back” in bold and a message stating that like a fine wine he only gets better with age. Harrison turned 38 in May, and will be entering his 14th season. Pittsburgh has been Harrison’s home for all but one season (he was with Cincinnati in 2013). His production, as well as his playing time, has taken a hit in recent years, but that is to be expected given his age and the youth around him. He did, however, manage 10.5 sacks over the previous two seasons. He has put himself through vigorous workouts to get to the point to be able to play another season, and it appears to be paying off. Harrison is a proven leader on and off the field, and if nothing else can be an asset in that role. This will likely be his last run, but the length of the run is the real question.

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