Steelers OTAs: 5 things to look for from the second round of practices

Rob Carr

Football in Shorts continues in Pittsburgh with three practices scheduled Tuesday through Thursday on the South Side.

The rookie signings

Linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and wide receivers Dri Archer and Martavis Bryant should be signing their first NFL contracts at some point in the near future. Considering it's just OTAs it wouldn't seem there would be a mandate to get them under contract before they participate but it wouldn't be an unreasonable expectation either. The four of them are the only Steelers rookies not under contract, but since the cap space to do so wasn't available until June 2, it's understandable.

The Waiver Wire

There's always a shuffling of undrafted free agents from one team to another during this period. The Steelers released offensive tackle Kaycee Ike last week in order to sign CB Deion Belue, and they also released offensive guard Nik Embernate while picking up OT Emmanuel McCray. In Embernate's case, he wasn't yet fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him his 2013 season. Don't rule out a comeback if he's able to get back to 100 percent by late July.

Early shots in position battles

While there isn't much competition noted in these practices (Football in Shorts), a lot of eyes will be on the Steelers' wide receivers. The veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey and the camp incumbents Derrick Moye and Justin Brown look to be on the bubble for the final spot or spots on the Steelers' receiver depth chart. It's too dramatic to suggest each snap counts for them right now, but they will have to prepare like it's true for the sake of being ready for the real competition come training camp.

Kick returners roost

The Steelers will have a difficult time cutting any player who shows an ability to return kicks. The team returned 43 kicks in 2013, all but five of them were returned by players no longer on its roster - Felix Jones (23), Emmanuel Sanders (10) Jonathan Dwyer (four) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (1). It's clear the team will not rely on Cameron Heyward and Michael Palmer to return kicks, so they have three returns between Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton back this season. Brown in particular, but Wheaton to an extent as well, will be relied upon in the offense -meaning a player deep on the depth chart has an opportunity to cement a role on this team through returns.

Speaking of kicking

With the Steelers flush of cap space earned with the official removal of LaMarr Woodley's contract from their 2013 books, and after the aforementioned signings of the remaining rookies, the Steelers may elect to use some of its cap space to give an extension or two. Kicker Shaun Suisham is in the final year of his contract, and has quietly put together an outstanding track record of kicking in Pittsburgh - widely known as one of the toughest places to kick in the NFL. He was a perfect 18-for-18 in Pittsburgh last season, and 30-for-32 on the year. The two misses marred an otherwise excellent season. Both came in a 21-18 loss at Oakland.

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