I absolutely love football before actual football. By that, I mean I love reading about camp, watching highlights about camp, and analyzing every single play of every preseason game. The positional battles that occur are always awesome to watch and, believe it or not, these big decisions will have a large impact on the season. These battles are usually for depth positions and ultimately end up having an impact when injuries occur. If you are not a preseason junky like me, you are in luck. I have prepared a checklist for you to watch this year.
If you have not already heard, Matt Spaeth left for the Windy City, a move that pleases many Spaeth haters. Like him or hate him, his departure creates a major hole in our roster. In other words, Bruce Arians's entire playbook is worthless right now because he does not have enough Tight Ends. Therefore, we need someone to step up in a huge way. Right now, I would say it is a shoe in for David Johnson to be the 2nd TE, unless someone really upstages him and he is left at #3. Either way, I see him making the team.
Players to watch: Weslye Saunders (44), Jamie McCoy (45), Vaughn Charlton (49)
What you need to know: Saunders was projected as a 3rd round draft pick, but was suspended by South Carolina for violating team rules. He is a great pass catcher with some questions about his blocking prowess. McCoy converted to a TE while at Texas A&M. It was an instant success as McCoy became one of the Aggies "most dangerous pass catching threats in his first season at tight end", but questions were left about his blocking ability. Listed on Steelers.com as a TE, but other sites have him listed as a TE/FB. Lastly, Vaughn Charlton is big and slow. He converted to TE in his senior year and is a very raw talent.
My pick: Wesyle Saunders (by mid season he is the #2)
The biggest question marks have to be at Tackle. We all know last year was a disaster at the position and this year is not shaping up to be much better. It was great that the Steelers resigned Willie Colon, but then they cut Max Starks and Flozell Adams. That pretty much places the starting roles in Colon and Jonathan Scott's hands without a serious competition. That has to concern you, at least a little bit. My guess at the line would be: Scott / Kemo / Pouncey / Foster / Colon. Outside of Pouncey and Colon, I am not very excited about that line up.
Players to watch: C/G Doug Legursky (64), G/T Marcus Gilbert (65), T Chris Scott (61), G Keith Williams (62)
What you need to know: Legursky is really a center, but he is not going to play there over Pouncey. He needs to show some flexibility and be able to cut it as a guard. Foster is not a lock for RG and a good camp showing could help Doug win that position. Gilbert is presumably the tackle of the future, but has the flexibility to play guard. He has all the measurables of an OT, but is still rough around the edges. Maybe, just maybe, he can have some Gator magic, like Pouncey, and win a starting position at guard before transitioning into a tackle. Scott was drafted in 2010 and then injured his foot and did not take a snap the entire season. Hopefully, he spent his time on the bench studying the playbook. Williams is projected as a back-up guard, which might mean starter for the Steelers. His lacking quickness hampers his pass blocking skills. He does show promise as a run blocker.
My picks: Well, we will probably carry 8-9 OL, so I imagine all these guys make it.
The Steelers just resigned William Gay and that should not be a surprise. We have a short off season and Gay provides solid competition for a DB roster spot. He is not the best cover-corner, but he is still a "Big Play" maker and knows the defense well. Speaking of that, it takes most young guys a season or so to really get a grasp of the defense, so do not get your hopes up on Cortez or Curtis hurdling Gay, Lewis, and Butler for this spot. I will not write them off, but it is a slim chance.
Players to watch: William Gay (22), Keenan Lewis (23), Crezdon Butler (28), Cortez Allen (39), Curtis Brown (40)
What you need to know: Gay manned the position in 2010 and had an average season. Most people recall his subpar season in 2009, where he filled the role of #2 and got abused. He is the favorite to regain the position, but many people, maybe even the coaches, are hoping Lewis or Butler can step up. Lewis, who at one point was thought to be challenging Bryant McFadden for his spot in the 2010 preseason, took a turn for the worse when he was ejected after a preseason display of fisticuffs. He seemingly never came out of Tomlin's doghouse, faltered in STs, and saw little action on defense. Lastly, Butler is coming
My pick: Butler in at #3, Gay at #4, Lewis is cut.
Things we know: 1) Mike Wallace 2) Hines Ward. Additionally, we can guess that Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Browns are not locks, but pretty darn close. That leaves one position open, not two like last year. I think the Steelers went with 6 WRs last year, because of the uncertainty they had with Wallace taking over a bigger role and unknowns in Sanders and Brown. Wallace appears to be a stud and the other two appear to be serviceable, at worst.
Players to watch: Limas Sweed (80), Arnaz Battle (81), Tyler Grisham (19), Wes Lyons (15), Adam Mims (18), Eric Greenwood (8), Terrence McCrae (11), Armand Robinson (14)
What you need to know: In my opinion, this is a three man battle between Sweed, Battle, and Grisham. Keep in mind, that unless one of these guys shows to be a really talented pass catcher (*cough cough* Sweed *cough*) they will be expected to be a ST standout. Battle could very well oust these two with his ST talent, even though he may not offer as much to the offense.
Anyway, here are some "quick slants" on each player. Sweed oddly fast for his height (6'4), great route runner, head problems lead to bad hands(?). Battle was a great ST gunner in 2010 with limited, rough offensive snaps. Grisham is a slot-type WR, very shifty, small, fan favorite. Lyons is really friggin' tall (6'8). Mims is very short (5'9), but lightning fast (4.4) and a great returner. Greenwood is tall, relatively fast, and played in a small conference. McCrae has a great speed to height ratio (6'3 / 4.42), played on a run-heavy offense, could surprise...or not. Robinson is short and slow, can jump though and might be good addition for the charity basketball team.
My pick: Hands down (bad choice of words probably) Limas Sweed. I think he is poised to have a breakout year and could end up supplanting Brown at #4.
Rashard Mendenhall and Lord/Saint Isaac Redman are locks at 1 and 2.
Players to watch: Mewelde Moore (21), Baron Batch (35), Jonathan Dwyer (27), John Clay (38)
What you need to know: Moore was our 3rd down back in 2010 and played very well, especially towards the end of the year. However, he is a perfect candidate for a cap casualty with his age and assumed veteran minimum contract. Presumably, Moore would not have been resigned if camp was not shortened. However, we are in that situation and Moore had to be brought back as an insurance policy and competition for the spot. Batch is going to be a fan favorite, because he is a fantastically intriguing person off the field. Also, he was a stud at Texas Tech and has already made a name for himself in camp by doing well in Backs on Backers.
Dwyer is somewhat of a mystery. He fell in the draft in 2010 because he played in a weird offense and scouts questioned his ability to play in a pro offense. However, his measureables were very appealing and the Steelers grabbed him late in the draft, which some dubbed "the steal of the draft." Then, in camp I hear stories about him being complacent in drills and forgetting plays. That is not unusual for a rookie, but I have already heard rumblings of the same this year. Dwyer could end up being a waste of talent or nice fill in, his choice. Clay, is one of the top UDFAs the Steelers were able to grab. He is a big lumbering back that had some nice numbers at Wisconsin. His 40 time of 4.85 leads me to believe he will never be an NFL running back, but could maybe a FB. The only problem is that the only things I have read state that his pass blocking skills are, well, not good.
My pick: Baron Batch. I am picking with my heart there, but I like this kid a lot.