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Five Burning Questions for the Pittsburgh Steelers

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COMMENTARY | The last time eight wins was an acceptable season total in the city of Pittsburgh was probably in 1977. That was the last year the NFL played a 14 game regular season schedule.

For a team that's had just four losing seasons since 1990, an 8-8 record is no laughing matter. Especially when it means the Steelers miss the playoffs. Pittsburgh hasn't missed the postseason in consecutive years since 1999-2000, but the team is in real danger of that happening this year.

The Steelers are facing a lot of questions heading into training camp, but there's really five that stand out. Here's five burning questions facing Pittsburgh to this point in the offseason.

Is there enough depth on the offensive line?

Over the last half-a-decade, the Steelers have had one of the more notoriously bad offensive lines in the game. And although there has been some lack in talent, one of the major issues Pittsburgh has faced has been with injuries.

Last season, the Steelers lost tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams to injury. They also saw rookie first-rounder David DeCastro miss almost the entire 2012 season with a knee injury. Starting guard Willie Colon missed the season's final four games and Maurkice Pouncey failed to play once.

Of the offensive linemen returning to Pittsburgh in 2013, only Ramon Foster played an entire NFL season last year.

To make matters worse, the Steelers failed to bring back key components in Max Starks and Doug Legursky. So far, they've replaced them with undrafted rookies and former Jaguar tackle Guy Whimper, who led the league in sacks allowed in 2011.

Obviously the Steelers are hoping they can stay healthy up front in 2013 but given their track record, that's far from a safe bet. Pittsburgh will look for new guys to step up in camp or they'll have to go to free agency to find another piece.

Which running back (if any) will separate himself from the pack?

One of the biggest problems the Steelers faced in 2012 was their complete inability to get anything going on the ground. Pittsburgh, who has been known for their ground attack, ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards and scored only eight times on the ground.

The Steelers added to a crew that features Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman in the offseason by selecting former Michigan State back Le'Veon Bell in the second round and signing LaRod Stephens-Howling away from the Cardinals. Baron Batch remains on the current roster, as well.

Dwyer and Redman ran well last season, but both were injured too often and probably aren't feature backs.

Many expect Bell to walk in the door as a rookie and win the starting job, but that's easier said than done in Pittsburgh. No Steelers rookie has rushed for 1,000 yards since Franco Harris in 1972. In 2008, rookie Rashard Mendenhall played only four games and gained just 58 yards.

If the line improves, the backs will certainly get better, but one of these guys needs to separate themselves in order for Pittsburgh to find success on the ground. Right now, odds are it'll either be Bell or Dwyer. But we won't know anything until they hit the field.

Will LaMarr Woodley come to camp in better shape?

LaMarr Woodley started the first four seasons of his career by accumulating 39 sacks in 47 starts. In the last two seasons, Woodley has tallied just 13 including a career-low four in 2012.

Woodley has faced some injuries over the last two seasons that have forced him to miss a combined nine games since 2011, but he still started 13 games last year. So what was going on with the promising pass rusher?

Well, according to multiple reports, even some from his own teammates, Woodley has spent the last two seasons coming into camp out of shape. This has led to slow starts and the aches and pains that come with playing at a slower level, culminating in his worst season to date in 2012.

With James Harrison shipped off in the offseason and a lot of question marks on the other side, the Steelers are counting on Woodley to return to his 2010 this season. And that means not only being a leader on the field, but showing up to camp ready to play.

One of Woodley's bigger critics has been his position coach Keith Butler. But Butler seems to be impressed with what he's seen so far from the seventh year linebacker. If Woodley is in shape, there's no reason to think that not only can he play at a high level, but he should be able to stay healthy as well.

How much will we learn about a Heath Miller timetable?

What a year it was for Heath Miller in 2012. In his first year in Todd Haley's offense, the 30-year-old tight end set career highs in yards, touchdowns and was named the team's most valuable player.

Unfortunately, that dream season was cut a game short when Miller tore ligaments in his knee in a Week 15 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Since then, Miller has been rehabbing and trying to get himself ready for the 2013 season. Strangely enough, though, we've barely heard any news regarding the progress or health of the two-time Pro Bowler.

Considering the Steelers did very little in the offseason to prepare for season without Miller, they're either positive he'll be ready to go early in 2013 or there's a real cause for concern. Right now, Pittsburgh would go with veteran Matt Spaeth, who averages eight catches per season, and second-year man David Paulson.

If Miller misses time, that's not a promising outlook considering between the two backups' seven NFL seasons, they've amassed 56 total receptions. That's 15 less than Miller's total from 2012. Look for more news to come out in training camp and maybe we'll even get a timetable on Miller's return.

How ready is Jarvis Jones for the NFL?

After the NFL Draft, people's focus always shifts to the team's first round draft picks. For the Steelers, that would be outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Jones steps into a situation in which he has the opportunity to make an impact right away. With Harrison off to Cincinnati and Jason Worilds being little more than a rotational player so far in his career, Jones should compete for a starting job.

But how ready is Jarvis Jones for the NFL?

News on Jones has been few and far between this offseason. Even during rookie mini-camp, it was rare to hear any news on the rookie linebacker. Many questioned his size coming into the league and his back condition will always be a concern. But one thing he does have that can help him is his familiarity with the Steelers defense.

The positional battles will start to shape out during training camp, but if the competition between Worilds and Jones is close, look for the traditionally-conservative Steelers to side with the veteran. Jones will have to impress to earn the leading role as a rookie.

Dan Snyder , a 2012 graduate of Temple University, has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers for over a year now. His work has been published on mainstream sports media sites such as the Bleacher Report. Follow Dan on Twitter @dsnyder34 or shoot him an email

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