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Steelers talented, but face real obstacles

Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC North with seven consecutive wins to end the regular season. They beat the Miami Dolphins and upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the first two rounds of the playoffs, only to be thoroughly trounced in the AFC Championship Game by the New England Patriots.

Heading into 2017, the Steelers have ample reason to believe they can take the next step. The roster is returning as it was left, with all but inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons returning among the regular starters. The offense, already one of the best in football with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, should be even better with the return of receiver Martavis Bryant, who missed all of last year due to suspension.

Still, questions hover over Pittsburgh like a dark cloud. One of them involves Bryant and Roethlisberger, after the quarterback used an interview last summer to question Bryant’s dedication to the team. On Thursday, Bryant responded to that comment, saying he wants to sit down man-to-man with Roethlisberger, per ESPN.

“I feel like we need to,” Bryant told ESPN on Thursday during a break from his offseason workouts here in the 109-degree Nevada desert heat. “We should have a man-to-man. Because some of the things he put out there about me, I kind of didn’t agree with how he did it. So I want to sit down and hear his own opinion, man-to-man, about why he did that.”

Once that beef is squashed, the next obstacle centers around Bell. The do-it-all back was given the franchise tag this offseason and so far, has not signed the tender. The deadline for teams and players on the tag to reach a long-term deal is July 17 at 4 p.m. EST, and if something has not been done at that juncture, Bell has to either sign the tag of $12 million or hold out. There’s little chance that Bell sits out for any regular-season games, but he could hold out through much of training camp. If that’s the case, the 25-year-old would miss valuable time to get his body ready for the pounding ahead.

Finally, Pittsburgh has to navigate the pitfalls of injury. Every team in the NFL has to deal with ailing players, but the Steelers may have to more than most. Pittsburgh’s roster has a litany of injury risks, including men like Bell, Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Ryan Shazier, all of whom are elite players with a lengthy injury history.

The Steelers are the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC and perhaps all of football, but there are a bevy of obstacles awaiting them.

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