COMMENTARY | The unofficial start of the 2013 NFL season is underway. Two teams, the Dolphins and Cowboys, have reported to training camp and all other 30 teams will follow suit throughout the course of this week.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be one of the last teams to report to camp on Thursday, July 26th. Only the Colts and Bills will start their offseason programs later.
Pittsburgh will also enter camp with seemingly more questions than answers on a team that has been traditionally a postseason contender since the early '90s. Coming off an 8-8 season, the position battles could be as heated as we've seen them in a long time.
Here's three things to watch for in the upcoming weeks of training camp.
The New Running Scheme
It's public knowledge that the Steelers had one of their worst rushing seasons as a team last year. Whether that blame falls on the backs or a constant rotation of offensive linemen is a little more murky.
Either way, according to multiple reports, the Steelers and second-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley will look to rectify that situation with a change of scheme.
In 2013, the Steelers will look to employ more of a zone blocking scheme. It's a good fit for the team's offensive line considering most of these guys are young and athletic. The scheme will allow the linemen to stretch the field and use their agility to take on blockers, worrying much less about gap assignments.
It's also a good fit for the current running backs on the roster, especially rookie Le'Veon Bell. The system allows backs to make more reads and decide for themselves where the hole will be, as opposed to knowing where they're supposed to go and blindly running to the area.
The zone scheme certainly isn't for every team, but the Steelers seem to be taking to it nicely. The offensive line is on board with the plan and, if they can execute, it could pay dividends. Ask any back who's played under Mike Shanahan.
Rookies to Step Up
Over the last three years, the Steelers have made a conscious effort to get younger on a team full of aging stars. Players like James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Max Starks, James Farrior and other veterans have been handed their walking papers over the last few years, opening the door for young players to make their mark in Pittsburgh.
The problem is that the Steelers haven't seen many of these young players step up in ways they've needed them.
By most accounts, Pittsburgh has put together two very solid drafts in a row. But for the first time in a long time, they'll need a rookie class to step up right away if they want to be successful.
Former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones wasn't drafted in the first round to make a career on the bench. He was drafted to take the place of James Harrison. It's no easy task, but it's what he was brought here to do.
Same goes for Bell at running back. The Steelers suffered at the position last season and Bell will be counted on to make some sort of contribution.
Bell and Jones have the most realistic chances of starting immediately, but guys like Markus Wheaton, Shamarko Thomas and even Nick Williams may be looked upon to make some sort of significant impact early in their careers.
Keep an eye on which rookies separate themselves early in camp. We could see as many as four first-year players play a significant role in the 2013 season.
Training Camp Position Battles
One of the most exciting parts of any team's training camp is watching some of the close position battles. For the last few years, however, the Steelers have had a relatively predictable lineup, leading to less intrigue on this subject.
In 2013, however, that's not the case.
Pittsburgh has questions all over the place and could see position battles at running back, wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, linebacker and cornerback.
The one position you'll have to keep your eyes on is running back, however. After such a poor 2012 campaign, the chase for the starting backfield job is wide open. Pittsburgh will return Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman into the fold while Le'Veon Bell looks to be the first full-time rookie starting back for the Steelers since Franco Harris in 1972.
Other battles to look forward to are as follows: Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds at linebacker; Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton for two receiver spots; Matt Spaeth and David Paulson at tight end (until Heath Miller is ready); Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood at defensive end; William Gay and Cortez Allen at cornerback
The 2013 Steelers' training camp will be, if nothing else, one of intrigue. Pittsburgh's going to have a lot to figure out in this camp.
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.
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