While it is clear that these players have all had playing time at their respective positions, each of them will be stepping into an unfamiliar role this season. As day one starters, the question is no longer about how well they can play at a given moment, but about a sustained level of production over the course of a season. Maintaining the starting job is completely different from filling in for a couple of games and showing your potential.
Coach John Mitchell has expressed his faith in McLendon more than once and McLendon was slated as the starter last year before Casey Hampton was resigned. We know that McLendon can act as a disruption in the backfield, but can he consistently stop the run or demand double teams throughout a year or will he get worn down from the grind of a dedicated running game? McLendon appears to be aware of these questions, answering questions on his his off-season challenges by saying, "I am trying to get great lower body strength like Casey." This shows an understanding of his deficiencies, but will need to back his talk up this season.
Cortez Allen was the teams answer for Rob Gronkowski and pushed Keenan Lewis for the starting job last training camp. But there is a big difference between the 2nd and 3rd cornerback positions. While spot-starting in the last couple games due to injuries, he provided 2 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles, statistics made more meaningful in a defense that struggled to produce turnovers last year. Unfortunately, his interceptions and forced fumbles came in the last two games of the year with 2 forced fumbles coming against an offensively anemic Browns team creating questions about whether he can produce at that level over a full season or if that was just a flash from a hungry player.
Jason Worilds is entering a make or break year. With James Harrison's departure and LaMarr Woodley underperforming his contract, the Steelers need help at OLB. For the first time in his career, Jason Worilds will open training camp as the starter. This cannot lead to complacency as Jarvis Jones was drafted to provide insurance at OLB. Worilds produced 5 sacks last year despite splitting time with Chris Carter in the beginning of the year and losing more snaps due to the return of James Harrison. While his 5 sacks compare favorably to the rest of the roster (He comes in third, behind a tie between Lawrence Timmons and Harrison at 6), there are questions about his ability to play the run and his past injuries. If he gets bit by the injury bug this year, Jones could be moved to starter for the wrong reason.
Emmanuel Sanders has been a decently productive 3rd wide receiver when he has been able to stay on the field. Despite some flashes in his rookie year, he was passed on the depth chart by a hard working Antonio Brown and will be entering the season as the 2nd wide receiver. His 5 touchdowns and 5 fumbles creates questions about his nose for the endzone and his readiness as a starter. Mike Wallace's departure leaves a glut of targets for Sanders to soak up. While his numbers are almost certain to rise, the expectations for Sanders are high at 70 receptions and 1000 yards and he will not have Wallace stretching the field. If he isn't able to live up to those expectations then he could be playing for another team next year.
McLendon has high expectations from himself as well as the fans. Allen and Worilds were recently endorsed by Mike Tomlin, saying that they'll be given "the benefit of the doubt" as beginning-of-camp starters. Sanders has been given the standard he will be held to. Each of these players don't need to answer whether they can play well, but other questions to answer. Let's hope that we like their answers.