Last year, the intensity of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers culminated in fisticuffs between cornerback Ike Taylor and Antonio Brown. This year, training camp will become a gridiron battleground, emphasizing survival of the fittest.
Thanks to the NFL Draft, a roster once thought to be full of holes is now full of guys who possess serious potential. Unfortunately, there is only a limited number of starting spots and playable snaps.
Because of the lack of bones to be had, this pack of wolves will be rolling hungrier than ever. The coaches want to keep it this way.
They have already gone on record about Jarvis Jones not being simply handed James Harrison's vacated spot in the defense. Jones will have to compete for his job just like everyone else, and competition is not just limited to outside linebacker either. A roster once littered with complacent veterans who had come to feel almost entitled to post-season play based on past performances and team potential, is now full of determined ambition.
With Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in place along with Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery, the team has a formidable group of receivers now; but the team will be searching for the future of the position in the remaining positional players. Draftees Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown will be attempting to outshine other hopefuls like David Gilreath and Derek Moye.
The running back position, which is under heavy scrutiny after last season continued a downward trend in rushing performance, will also be heavily contested this off-season. The team signed both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to identical RFA tenders, and then drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the draft. The fact the team dangled Dwyer as trade bait before the rest of the league after drafting bell, proves no one is permanently etched into the top of the depth chart. Bell has just as much opportunity to become the man in Pittsburgh as his veteran teammates.
Even along the offensive line, nothing is set in stone. For the first year in quite awhile, the team did not address the line in the draft, but they did bring in a few interesting names this off-season. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are slated to be the starters at tackle, but the team has little to nothing in the way of depth. Guys like Joe Long and Mike Golic Jr. were both undrafted, but both possess an NFL chromosome and an equal chance at making the opening day roster.
Young guys like Vince Williams will push elder statesmen like Larry Foote. Nic Williams will be yet another pin in the seat cushion of Alameda Ta'amu, who already had a ton to prove in his second NFL season. Even Shamarko Thomas stands a chance of leapfrogging Robert Golden and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.
While competition doesn't necessarily guarantee training camp will turn into a bloodbath, it is safe to say those who survive the final cuts will have proved to all they were the fittest.