Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

The Steelers opened training camp with questions on their offensive line. Some of those have been answered. Others, not so much.

If there is a unit that does in the Steelers in 2021, it will be that offensive line. Then again, as coach Mike Tomlin quipped early in camp, it can’t be worse than it was a year ago in some phases.

Tomlin was, of course, referring to the team’s run blocking, a metric in which the Steelers ranked dead last in 2020. Certainly, adding running back Najee Harris will help. But inserting Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green and Trai Turner into the middle of that line should help, as well. All three are maulers.

The tackles will be an issue, especially after Zach Banner was placed on short-term injured reserve. He had been the go-to guy at right tackle but isn’t completely ready to go after having ACL surgery.

That means Chuks Okorafor will slide back over to the right side of the line and rookie Dan Moore will start on the left side, his more natural position.

With Moore and Green in the lineup, the Steelers are guaranteed to have three rookie starters – Harris is the other – in the lineup for the opener for the first time since 1989, when Tim Worley, Tom Ricketts and Carnell Lake started in a 51-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The Steelers can only hope they’ll do a little better in this year’s opener at Buffalo next weekend.

The 1989 Steelers lost again the next weekend, 45-10, to the Cincinnati Bengals, but rebounded to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs.

Before that, you have to go back to 1971, when Dwight White, Glen Edwards and Mike Wagner each were in the starting lineup for the opener – a 17-15 loss to the Chicago Bears – to find three rookies in the team’s starting lineup.

And if tight end Pat Freiermuth starts against the Bills, which is a strong possibility, it could be four rookies in the lineup.

That 1971 team didn’t start four rookies in Week 1, waiting until Week 2 of the season to make linebacker Jack Ham, a second-round pick, a starter.

That group worked out OK.

n The Steelers finally admitted that defensive end Stephon Tuitt is dealing with a knee injury – he has been doing so the entire offseason – in addition to the death of his brother.

But they only did so when they placed him on injured reserve. Like Banner, Tuitt can return after three weeks.

Why the secrecy? After all, it was obvious to anyone paying attention something was wrong with Tuitt before the death of his brother in early June in a hit-and-run accident.

He didn’t participate in any of the offseason program or minicamp.

n It would be nice to have Tuitt healthy. But it’s much safer to try to get him 100 percent healthy rather than put him on the field now for 15 snaps against the Bills.

Buffalo led the NFL in three-receiver sets last season and was second to the Arizona Cardinals in use of four-receiver formations.

The Steelers will be playing a lot of nickel defense against the Bills. It will probably be the same when they face the Las Vegas Raiders the following week.

And they only need two defensive linemen on the field when they are in their nickel. Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley – perhaps even outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who has kicked inside in the past when he was with the Chargers – can handle those duties.

n When the Pirates released Gregory Polanco last week, it marked the end of an era.

Polanco was the last remaining player who had been with the Pirates during their playoff runs in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The organization has completely broken things down and is in the middle of another rebuild. It did, at least, also have a winning season in 2018, going 82-79.

But this year’s team is headed for a 100-loss season. There’s not much to stop it from getting there.

On the plus side, that winning season in 2018 is one more than the Pirates had in the 20-plus years that separated them from their playoff teams of 1990 to 1992 and the latest playoff teams.

n Can the national – and some of the local – media stop saying the Steelers would be the perfect landing spot for whatever veteran quarterback that gets released?

This past week it was Cam Newton, who was released by the New England Patriots, who chose instead to go with rookie Mac Jones as their starter.

Newton is 32 and threw eight touchdown passes in 15 starts last season. He hasn’t been a good quarterback since T.J. Watt drove him to the ground, injuring his throwing shoulder in 2018.

Ben Roethlisberger might have more of a career remaining than Newton.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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