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Seven projected defensive starters are 30 or older, including linebacker James Farrior (35) and defensive end Aaron Smith (34), who missed most of last season with a right shoulder injury. Many teams fear that the older a defense gets, the most suspect it becomes to injuries.

One of the defense’s best players, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, is unhappy as camp opens despite having 13 1/2 sacks last season. Without a new NFL labor agreement, the Steelers can’t sign him to a new contract that pays more than 30 percent above what he made the previous season _ this season, for example, he couldn’t make more than $598,000 even with a new deal.

One welcomed development: star safety Troy Polamalu returns after missing 11 games and most of two others with a pair of knee injuries. His lengthy absences proved how valuable he is; the Steelers were 3-0 when Polamalu played a full game but only 6-7 in all the rest.

“He literally can do anything,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He just opens the playbook to anything that you want to do.”

All these troubles and concerns are lowering expectations for a team that routinely reports to camp expecting to make a Super Bowl run.

Rooney doesn’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.

“We’ve always done well as the underdog and I’m not sure why,” he said. “It seems that in the years people kind of underestimated us a little bit, sometimes that’s been some of our better years. I don’t mind that role if that’s where we wind up.”