There were multiple storylines in terms of position battles heading into camp that we have seen shape out over these last two weeks, as well as some positions that have had unexpected battles emerge.
The Steelers’ receivers are arguably their deepest position group. The top four spots on the roster are all but locked down by Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson, and Calvin Austin III. Assuming the Steelers keep six receivers, that leaves two spots that will likely come down to Gunner Olszewski, Cody White, Hakeem Butler, and Miles Boykin.
Boykin is a reliable special teams player, and will likely get a spot on the final roster for that alone. Olszewski has quietly had a nice camp. Although he is listed behind Austin on the depth chart in the return game, he has stood out in one-on-ones and in team sessions to the point of possibly earning a spot for his receiving ability alone.
Cody White has also had flashes in camp, making multiple nice plays over the weekend in team drills and showcasing his tall frame. Hakeem Butler has been the quietest of the group, but he flashed in Tuesday’s practice. He unleashed a nasty stiff arm on Kenny Robinson in the one-on-one tackling drill, and plowed over Jalen Elliot, as well. Butler’s strength is his massive frame, but will it be enough to earn him a spot on the roster in a talented wide receiver room? The Steelers will have some difficult decisions to make regarding their pass catchers in the coming weeks.
The tight end position wasn’t one that required much attention to be paid in terms of a position battle coming into camp. The unquestioned top two tight ends on the roster are Pat Freiermuth and Darnell Washington. Even though the opening depth chart has Washington as the fourth tight end, that is typical with the Steelers “making the rookies earn it.” Zach Gentry signed a new one-year deal in April to stay in Pittsburgh. However, Connor Heyward is officially labeled as a tight end on the depth chart, and Kendrick Green is switching to a fullback/h-back role. It doesn’t seem likely that Pittsburgh is going to keep five guys in that type of role on the roster- someone is going to be the odd man out.
It certainly looks like it will be Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace as the starters on the outside to begin the season. Obviously, there are still three preseason games to be played, but the raw talent of Joey Porter is still being harnessed in training camp. He struggled in the tackling drill between receivers and defensive backs, and his mechanics and discipline just need more finely tuned before he is handed the reigns. That’s not to say Porter has had a bad camp- quite the opposite, actually. He’s had flashes of brilliance. Pittsburgh is just going to be patient with him and make sure he can be the guy we’ve seen flashes of, just on a more consistent basis.
In terms of the nickel cornerback spot, I’d say it’s Elijah Riley’s job to lose at this point. He has looked better than both Chandon Sullivan and Duke Dawson. Kenny Robinson deserves a shout for his playmaking in camp, as well. He is a safety by trade, but we could see him lined up in the nickel during preseason.