Thursday, July 21, 2016

A healthy Le'Veon Bell can lift Steelers' offense to new stratosphere

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer 18, 2016

LeVeon Bell.  Photo courtesy of the Steelers.
LeVeon Bell. (Photo: Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Pittsburgh Steelers open training camp July 28 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Here's a closer look at the Steelers camp, which wraps up Aug. 17.
Top storyline: The Steelers' offense would be just fine without Le'Veon Bell. But if Bell returns smoothly from his knee injury, the possibilities are endless. Bell was in top form before going down in Week 8 last season. A healthy Bell can slash through the middle on the run and line up wide as a lethal receiving target for Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will be cautious with him, but if he's looking explosive by Week 3 of the preseason, he'll be going for gold in a contract year.
Player who will have fans buzzing: Tight end Jesse JamesSammie Coates and Ladarius Green are new weapons expected to enhance the offense, and they'll get their chances, but the Steelers are also high on James, who at 6-foot-7 is an attractive target for the red-zone package. With Green coming off a knee injury, expect James to get a significant run early in camp and capitalize on that run. James can inline block, which this offense values, ensuring James will have a role.
Position battle worth watching: Let's see if first-round corner Artie Burns can make a move on that outside cornerback job, which would probably go to Ross Cockrell if the season began today. Burns, who is rangy and athletic but is perceived as raw, has the month of August to close that gap. Cockrell might be a stopgap option, but he has been pretty steady for Pittsburgh.
That rookie should start: Safety Sean Davis. It's early, but so far the second-round pick has looked the part of a productive NFL safety. He has position flexibility after playing safety and corner at Maryland. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, his size and athleticism stand out in practice settings. Davis very well could take ownership of the starting strong-safety job alongside Mike Mitchell. He'll have Robert Golden, a sub-package favorite, and Shamarko Thomas to outshine.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. After five sacks in three years, Jones enters a career-defining season. If he finally breaks out, there could be a long-term extension waiting for him. But James Harrison is still productive, and that production could decrease Jones' reps once again. The two basically split snaps a year ago. As a 26-year-old former first-rounder, Jones should get those snaps, right?
Who's No. 2?: Markus Wheaton will have every chance to produce behind Antonio Brown as a starting receiver. He'll have company, though. Coates' work this offseason suggests he'll make a move. Darrius Heyward-Bey will get deep-threat looks. If Coates can get comfortable with at least some slot receiving and Eli Rogers carves a role there, that leaves Wheaton with more time at his more natural position on the outside. He's 5-foot-11 but likes operating with more space. The Steelers will want him to use his speed to attack defenses.
Wild card: Expect to see a refreshed Ben Roethlisberger in camp. Big Ben suffered four injuries last season, but this offseason he lost about 15 pounds and felt good going into minicamp. The injuries never affected Roethlisberger's play on the field, but this year a theme will be playing a full 16. When he plays, the Steelers have a chance in every game.
What fans will be saying after camp: They will say, "We still have some questions about the defense -- mainly, who will be the player to get sacks when we need it -- but we finally have a secondary that can get it done."
For daily updates, check out the Pittsburgh Steelers clubhouse page.

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