The offense is in good shape, aside from a small depth question on the line. The defensive line has some depth concerns as well, but the starters are pretty much locked in.
From linebacker through safety, though, there are a lot more things up in the air. That's precisely why, then, I'm giving separate articles to inside and outside linebacker, cornerback and safety. This is where the fun begins and ends during training camp. These are the battles that could easily determine the outcomes of multiple games. Careers will be launched, and dreams will be shattered. They are battles of gladitorial proportions!
A bit over the top? Okay.
Still, this is where the real uncertainty lies. There isn't enough room to cover some of these in depth as it is. But I'll try.
First things first: Lawrence Timmons isn't going anywhere. He is locked in, coming off his first Pro Bowl. It was never even a question.
If it was that easy across the board, well...well, it would be 2008. James Farrior, Larry Foote, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley. So good, Timmons hadn't yet even cracked the starting lineup. It barely fills a sentence fragment, let alone a complete article, yet it spoke volumes about dominance.
Steelers Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line
The defensive line starters are the only ones on the defense that are pretty much locked in heading into camp. But they have a lot -- a whole lot -- of guys from which to find their depth.
It's not that the current group lacks talent. In fact, they all have distinct skill sets aside from Timmons. That's their greatest asset, and their biggest problem, too.
It's great, because there is literally no team against which they cannot match up adequately. Ryan Shazier has speed, Vince Williams has size, Sean Spence is sort of right in between them, and they all have a pretty good nose for the ball.
The problem is that, while they can defend anything, it's easy to get a mismatch based on who is actually on the field at any time. Add to that the fact that they have four years of experience between the three of them, and it leaves them even more vulnerable.
There have been steps made to correct that, of course. All have been working out furiously this off-season. All appear to have added mass -- that's pretty much an inescapable outcome when your trainer is James Harrison, who bench-presses small cars and takes down fighter aircraft with his bare hands, then posts videos of it on Instagram. Or something like that.
The reality is that we really don't know how the fight will shake out to be Timmons' counterpart in the starting lineup. From the sound of things, the position is, again, Shazier's to lose. It's hard to keep a first-round pick out of the line-up to begin training camp, but the two guys behind him are capable of taking it from him. It's a great problem to have, at least for one more year.
There are other dogs in the fight, too. First, there is Terence Garvin, who thus far has made a career on special teams. He's tenacious and disciplined, but there's a reason he gets called "Big Safety" -- perhaps, it's because two of the team's actual safeties are bigger than him. While neither Shamarko Thomas or Gerod Holliman are as tall as Garvin, they have a higher density. Both sit at around 3.1 pounds per inch, while Garvin is 2.9 pounds per inch. At 6'-3", 221 pounds, he really is more of a safety than a linebacker. But there is no denying that he can get to the ball and make plays.
Then there is Jordan Zumwalt. Drafted as an outside linebacker, the reality is that his bet shot at making the team is in 2016, when Spence's contract is up. If Zumwalt can show he can play at a pro level, he could wind up on the practice squad in 2015 and take Spence's spot in 2016 if Spence leaves as a free agent. Otherwise, he doesn't have much of a chance at this point.
Finally, Shawn Lemon has the size of an inside linebacker, but he was signed because of his pass-rushing prowess. Chances are he sees more of an opportunity to make the team on the outside.
Right now, the top three inside 'backers outside of Timmons are jacks of all trades. But can any of them become a "master"?
My Absurdly Early Prediction: I'm not going out on much of a limb here. Timmons and Shazier are the starters, but both Williams and Spence see time at both spots throughout the year. They will keep nine linebackers on the roster, but chances are the ninth will be a tweener -- someone like Lemon or Howard Jones, who could play inside in a pinch.