Steelers rookie minicamp begins Friday

Michael C. Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The team's first look at its 2013 Draft class on the field, the rookie minicamp is the precursor for activity over the rest of the offseason.

As important as it is for the team to get a look at outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and running back Le'Veon Bell, the teams first two draft picks in 2013, the abilities of undrafted free agents like center Joe Madsen will be viewed just as intensely.

It's the later picks and the undrafted free agents who will determine if the Steelers ultimately will make another move this offseason. With a scant amount of cap room left, if the Steelers were to make a move anywhere else, like making an offer to veteran offensive tackle Winston Justice, for example, it will come due to finding a diamond in the rough of the South Side practice field.

Justice met with the team, as well as the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, but as of now, remains unsigned. It very well could be that teams want an opportunity to evaluate the abilities of their draft classes before making a move on a veteran.

The Steelers signed undrafted free agent offensive tackles Mike Farrell from Penn State and Notre Dame's Mike Golic, Jr.

It's not as if the higher picks won't be evaluated, though. It's not out of the question Jones and Bell don't contend for starting positions, and third round pick Markus Wheaton will be utilized in multiple roles, both out of the slot and split out wide. His readiness for that task is one of the storylines in this camp.

Fourth round pick Shamarko Thomas is also a key to this season. His ability to get on the field and understand the defense will be critical in determining the readiness of a deep secondary that has experience on its side, but lacks youth. Quarterback Landry Jones, taken after Thomas in the fourth round, is a project and shouldn't be expected to compete with veteran back-up Bruce Gradkowski for the No. 2 QB position behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Depth at cornerback is always important, and fifth round pick Terry Hawthorne will have an opportunity at training camp to fight for the fourth or fifth cornerback spot - depending on how many the Steelers will keep.

Special teams will also be highly competitive, particularly for rookies like Hawthorne and sixth round pick Vince Williams. The linebacker from Florida State has his best shot of making the team if he can show the ability to cover kicks and punts.

The team's other sixth round pick, Justin Brown, stands at 6-foot-3, giving him a height advantage that's non-existent on the roster for any receiver under the age of 34. He will likely have to also show his value on special teams to convince the Steelers to keep another receiver behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress and Wheaton. If Brown was to earn a spot, it will almost certainly have to be at the price of releasing Cotchery or Burress - neither of whom are signed past the 2013 season.

There will be plenty of news coming out of the South Side today, and much of that news could be the first tangible building blocks for the 2013 season.

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