LATROBE, Pa. -- There is a lot of enthusiasm and hype surrounding young players and new schemes in the NFL. And then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When the Steelers report to training camp Friday and have their first full squad workouts Saturday, it will be obvious they are a team in transition. But it is unclear what direction the Steelers are headed.
After stumbling to an 8-8 finish last year, the Steelers did make changes in the offseason.
As they open training camp, gone from last year are former Pro Bowl defenders James Harrison and Casey Hampton along with starting cornerback Keenan Lewis. Offensive starters joining them out the door were linemen Willie Colon and Max Starks, halfback Rashard Mendenhall and big-play wide receiver Mike Wallace.
On one hand, that is a lot of talent to lose. On the other hand, general manager Kevin Colbert points out that they were, after all, players from an 8-8 team.
But while other top teams in the NFL are generating interest with young, dynamic stars and new approaches to offense or defense, the Steelers begin training camp with some very old and familiar faces leading the way.
There is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who features his own version of the run-option offense by extending plays until defenders get confused, lost or both. But without Wallace, maybe all that scrambling won't be so beneficial.
Tight end Heath Miller, voted by his teammates as the Steelers MVP in 2012, is still rehabbing from three torn knee ligaments, including his ACL. He may not be ready for the season and the Steelers do not have another tight end anywhere near his ability.
On defense there is the great Troy Polamalu at safety, or whatever position that is he plays while redefining versatility as a cover man, hit man, sack man. Trouble is, the seven-time Pro Bowler and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year beats himself up and onto the injury list doing all those things. And, at 32, he may have a hard time staying healthy for a whole season.
In fact, injuries helped drag down the 2012 Steelers and they have tried a few new training twists to see if that will help.
Their biggest issues continue to be the lack of punch on the ground and the lack of big plays on defense. Although the Steelers' defense finished No. 1 in the NFL in each of the past two seasons in fewest yards allowed, they were down both years in producing turnovers and sacks.
Even though Todd Haley was hired in 2012 as offensive coordinator with a task to improve the running game, he failed. It slipped from No. 14 in 2011 to No. 26. It's why they drafted halfback Le'Veon Bell with the second pick, and why they made over their offensive line.
Bell has a chance to boost the Steelers' ground game to where owner Art Rooney says it should be. Bell, a second-round draft choice, looked good in the offseason, but that was without pads or getting tackled.
As usual, training camp will feature a few less conspicuous battles for jobs.
At wide receiver Plaxico Burress will battle Jerricho Cotchery for No. 3 spot. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will start and there is room for one of the two veterans.
The departure of Harrison, who refused to take a pay cut and wound up in Cincinnati, forced the Steelers to draft Jarvis Jones first and he could overtake Jason Worilds quickly to start. Left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's big issue has been his health and inability to play up to his standards because of it.
Inside linebacker is set.Lawrence Timmons was the team's best defensive player in 2012 and is Pro-Bowl material, making plays everywhere. Beside him, Larry Foote just keeps making tackles and is rarely out of position.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.