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Very little going well for Steelers

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the preseason searching for a defense and its identity and carrying over its entire offense that was so dominant in 2014. It ended the preseason having regressed on offense and with little more knowledge about what its young defense might hold in 2015.

On offense, the Steelers lost All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken fibula for at least half the season and probably more, along with two suspended players – All-Pro halfback Le’Veon Bell (two games) and dynamic young wide receiver Martavis Bryant (four games).

Veteran DeAngelo Williams, who spent his first nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers, will start the first two games for Bell. Veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a former first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, moves up to No. 3 to replace Bryant after he made the Steelers roster last season as No. 5.

Their defense remains a work in progress or perhaps one in regress because they took few steps forward in that ongoing transition from their outstanding veteran-laden defenses through most of the 21st century. One of the holdovers from those defenses, 37-year-old James Harrison, led them with two sacks in the preseason but he will open behind young Jarvis Jones, who remains a riddle at right outside linebacker entering his third season.

They have no depth behind their two good defensive ends, Cam Heyward and second-year player Stephon Tuitt. Their secondary is a mess. They were hoping cornerback Cortez Allen, who signed a big contract with them one year ago and then was benched by mid-season, would show them something this summer. He has not. They picked up two cornerbacks, Brandon Boykin in a trade with Philadelphia early in camp and Ross Cockrell, Buffalo’s fourth-round pick in 2014 who was cut a week ago.

Another young player they were counting on, safety Shamarko Thomas, lost the starting job handed to him when Troy Polamalu retired. That now will go to old vet Will Allen, at least for the opener at New England Thursday. Allen was signed and re-signed as a steady hand who could back up both safeties. Thomas was drafted in the fourth round in 2013 after the Steelers traded their 2014 third-rounder to, of all teams, AFC North rival Cleveland so they could draft Thomas from Syracuse.

He has been hurt and now he could not hang onto a job in his third season. It does not bode well for his future or the Steelers present on defense.

One young defender who does seem to be fulfilling his expectations is inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, a first-round draft pick in 2014. Shazier’s rookie season was thrown off kilter by ankle and knee injuries. He has been one of their most active defensive players this summer and led them in tackles.

–Three players made the 53-man roster after converting from other positions in college. Rookie Tyler Murphy, Boston College’s starting quarterback, made the team as a wide receiver. First-year pro Roosevelt Nix, a defensive end with 24 sacks in four years at Kent State, made it as a fullback. Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours of duty and saw combat in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger who earned the Bronze Star, made it as the team’s No. 3 offensive tackle. Villanueva started at tackle as a junior and then wide receiver as a senior at West Point and was signed by the Eagles last season as a defensive end.

–The Steelers, never much in wheeling and dealing, made three trades during the preseason. They sent a sixth-round draft choice to Jacksonville for kicker Josh Scobee after their first two kickers were injured in the preseason and went on injured reserve: Shaun Suisham (ACL) and Garrett Hartley (hamstring). They received a conditional seventh-round draft pick from the New York Giants for punter Brad Wing. Early in camp, they traded a conditional fourth- or fifth-round pick to the Eagles for cornerback Brandon Boykin.

–Center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed virtually the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, will miss at least half of this one after going on the reserve/injured, designated for return list following surgery for a broken lower fibula.


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