There might not be the open level of competition on offense for any of the starting roles like there will be on defense this year, but there should still be several training camp battles worth keeping an eye on when it comes to the backups.
Offensive line looks to be the most open position group on offense beyond the obvious five starters and injuries and free agency have created opportunities for new faces to stake their claim to a roster spot. There will be a number of viable candidates for many of these roles and here are just five of the camp battles we will be keeping a close eye on as events unfold at Saint Vincent College.
At quarterback - Mason Rudolph vs. Landry Jones vs. Josh Dobbs
There will be an odd man out in the battle of the backup quarterbacks this year and either Landry Jones or Josh Dobbs will be let go before the regular-season begins. The sensible money says the player leaving is more likely to be Dobbs, but there are a significant number of fans who would love for it to be Jones. As the team’s latest third-round draft pick, Rudolph’s place on the roster is guaranteed, but his position on the depth should decide the fates of the other two.
An impressive preseason from Rudolph could convince the Steelers to go with him as Ben Roethisberger’s primary backup a decision that could lead to Pittsburgh keeping Dobbs as the No. 3. While this is perhaps more wishful thinking than anything else, the modest $1.9 million salary cap saving resulting from Jones’ release would provide the Steelers the required additional cap room they will be looking for ahead of the new season.
At wide receiver - Marcus Tucker vs. Quadree Henderson vs. Justin Hunter
The recent return of Eli Rogers has complicated matters for several wide receivers on the roster just as camp has begun and there should be several names in the mix for the last slot at wide receiver. While Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington are locked into three of the places available, it seems likely that Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey will be in the led positions to fill out the top five.
Assuming Pittsburgh keeps six receivers again like they did in 2017, Marcus Tucker, Quadree Henderson and Justin Hunter figure to be the main names in consideration for the role. The coaching staff seems to like the progression Tucker has shown since being signed after a tryout during rookie minicamp in 2016. Having spent 2017 on the practice squad, Tucker could yet be the surprise winner of this contest over the regular training camp standout in Hunter or the exciting kick returner in Henderson.
At running back - Jaylen Samuels vs. Stevan Ridley
Given that the Steelers’ star running back is set to miss all of training camp, the names on the depth chart below him should see far more snaps tham normal for the second year in a row. Considering the options that Pittsburgh has to pick from as the third choice runner, the absence of Le’Veon Bell for the next few weeks might be more or a blessing than a curse.
Rookie Jaylen Samuels will need to catch the coaching staff’s eye with his versatility if he hopes to be the winner of this particular training camp battle, faced with a veteran player who has already posted a 1000-yard season in the NFL and started 27 games. Although Ridley seems to be the logical winner of the contest, a strong preseason might be enough to convince the Steelers it is too risky to try and sneak Samuels on the practice squad only to see him claimed by another team.
At Center - B.J. Finney vs. Patrick Morris
If there was a camp darling for some fans before training camp had even begun, Patrick Morris might be that man. Having posted some impressive numbers at his Pro Day, his potential has many observers excited. Limited experience and injury are two of more the obvious reasons why Morris did not get drafted, but he has the athleticism to suggest he could be a starter in the league given time and a good coach.
While Finney is in no danger of losing his job, the emergence of Morris would enable him to focus on guard and still give the Steelers the versatility they like in their backup lineman. How this would impact Matt Feiler in his quest to return as a reserve guard might be the more significant question in this scenario.
At tight end - Vance McDonald vs. Health
Vance McDonald should be the starter at tight end for the entire 2018 campaign, but that is extremely unlikely to happen. Through five seasons, McDonald has never been able to suit up for every game. Just one missed game during his rookie season has been the pinnacle of his availability to date and he missed five games with Pittsburgh in his first year with the team.
For all the potential he appears to have, McDonald is of no use on the sidelines and his issues seem to be less about a recurring injury and more about a wide a range of problems that have forced him in and out of the lineup. If he can somehow make it through camp unscathed, McDonald may actually begin to build some real chemistry with Roethlisberger, an aspect the offense has been missing since Heath Miller retired. If he can consistently deliver the flashes of talent that fans saw on the rare occasions he was healthy in 2017, the offense might finally average that 30-points a game mark they have been striving for.