The Steelers are playing football in shorts. They aren't competing for their jobs just yet. But the OTAs portion of the offseason schedule can give an early glimpse at how those competitions will break down come training camp. It's like the horses before the race walking around the track, sizing everything up.
There are plenty of position battles for depth positions on the Steelers' roster, and here are a few of them to keep in mind as they go through their final three practices of OTAs.
The second-year quarterback has had a year in which to adjust to the league and how everything works as a back-up. He looked more than tentative, more than confused in his preseason appearances, and with Bruce Gradkowski hitting the middle point of his three-year deal, this is the point Jones has to start showing he comprehends the offense and takes a step forward this year in justifying a legitimate case to be the team's back-up quarterback next season.
Stuck amid the hottest position group battle on the team, Garvin was Ryan Shazier for the Steelers before Shazier was drafted. He was a healthy Sean Spence in some ways. Garvin is fast and athletic, and considering he was undrafted, the fact he took snaps last year speaks to two things; 1. his ability as a player, and 2. the lack of depth at either linebacker spots the team had in 2013. He still will need a strong camp to remain a part of the Run and Hit linebackers in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers added three defensive linemen after losing two in free agency. Fangupo isn't going to compete with second-round pick Stephon Tuitt or free agent signing Cam Thomas. It's possible sixth-round pick Dan McCullers gives him a run for his money, though. Fangupo has been working within the system and saw action in goal line packages, but the emergence of Cameron Heyward as a legitimate interior pass rusher damages Fangupo's sub-package presence. He's going to have to really show he can be a running down nose tackle and provide value as a back-up to Steve McLendon.
The Steelers' 5WR spot on their depth chart may end up being decided based on special teams performances. While Heyward-Bey assumed that role when his snaps were reduced for the Colts last season, it's unclear whether the Steelers see him chasing down kick and punt returners in Pittsburgh. His main competitors, Justin Brown and Derrick Moye, are looking to be those returners, and if Heyward-Bey leans too much on his experience - a big advantage he has over the younger receivers - he may end up scrambling to show his value in preseason games.
Johnson's best attributes are associated with his athleticism. There can't be many fullbacks in the league who can move as well as Johnson, but with the implementation of a more concentrated usage of the Steelers' no huddle offense, it's tough to see where the fullback will be utilized. Not to say he's on the chopping block, but the team has to be considering whether to keep a fullback if that fullback is not the best blocker, and isn't big enough to be an H-back. The Steelers did use Johnson in that move-tight end role in 2013, and that may be more of his future, considering where this offense is going, but they won't just hand him the job, either. The rookie tight end, Rob Blanchflower, will get looks in that role as well.