Here we go: Steelers kick off 88th NFL season’s training camp

PITTSBURGH — UPDATE 7/22 5 P.M.: We’re getting our first look at the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers as training camp kicked off Thursday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.

TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW 7/21:

The Steelers are set to open their 88th NFL season; but because of continued COVID concerns, their second consecutive training camp is being held away from Saint Vincent College.

The Steelers enter the season with many reasons for optimism. At the top of the list is 39-year-old QB Ben Roethlisberger, who reworked his contract to return for an 18th season.

With a veteran franchise quarterback at the helm, the Steelers have an experienced leader and future Hall of Famer leading the way.

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Roethlisberger’s starting receivers are all returning as well, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, who signed a one-year deal after testing the waters of free agency.

In the April draft, the Steelers also made one of their more intriguing picks in recent memory when they selected Alabama running back Najee Harris, who they hope can rejuvenate the team’s running game — but that could depend on the performance of the new offensive line.

The Steelers said goodbye to former Pro Bowlers Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Alejandro Villanueva.

The only returning starter on the offensive line is Chukwuma Okorafor, and he appears to be switching from right tackle to left.

Blocking for Harris will be important, but the key to the season could be protecting Roethlisberger and keeping him healthy.

The Steelers return with the bulk of their defensive players, including captain Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Their biggest loss was LB Bud Dupree, who signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers’ schedule has been ranked as the toughest in the NFL, and two other division teams, the Ravens and Browns, also made the playoffs last season.

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Fans in Pittsburgh may want to forget, but it was the Browns who eliminated the Steelers last January. The preseason schedule features a matchup in the Hall of Fame Game against the Cowboys.

In the regular season, stacking wins will be a challenge, with road games in Buffalo, Kansas City, Green Bay and Minnesota (not to mention the divisional road games in Baltimore and Cleveland). There will also be some difficult matchups at Heinz Field, including games against the Ravens, Browns, Seahawks and Titans, but first things first.

Training camp is a time for team building, and as Mike Tomlin gets ready for his 15th Steelers training camp, the Steelers are focused on building another winner.

The goal for Tomlin’s team will remain the same, winning a seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy.