14 games into the season, most NFL teams have their rosters solidified and essentially set in stone. Don't include the Pittsburgh Steelers into that group as Mike Tomlin made it glaringly clear in his Tuesday press conference how several positions are still up for grabs as the team heads into a crucial Week 16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Tomlin referred to the season and the team as a 'moving train', and when players suffer injuries it can be difficult to get caught up and get back on that train. Not all positions are up for competition, but several are and could have drastic implications moving forward.
James Harrison has missed the past two games with a knee injury, but although practicing last week was inactive again vs. the Atlanta Falcons. Harrison is now competing with second year player Jarvis Jones and veteran Arthur Moats for the right outside linebacker position. Although neither Moats or Jones have been lighting up the stat sheet, their ability to play special teams makes them attractive options at the position.
Inside linebacker is another position where Vince Williams and Sean Spence have shared time filling in for the oft-injured Ryan Shazier. The rookie was handed the job in Spring drills, but now has to work his way back into the lineup. Tomlin mentioned how Shazier's focus on details and work ethic are factors keeping him off the field, but Shazier's athleticism will be tough to ignore as the Steelers play opponents with athletic tight ends in the coming weeks.
Cornerback continues to be unsettled, but Tomlin seems insistent on giving Brice McCain and Antwon Blake their chance to prove their worth. Ike Taylor is coming off an injured shoulder, but before the injury his play was beyond sub-par. An ongoing theme among the skill positions are players who also play quality special teams. Blake and McCain both fall into that category, making it a reasonable option Taylor might not be active even if healthy this Sunday.
Lastly, the right tackle position which was anchored by Marcus Gilbert for the majority of the season has been owned by Mike Adams the past two weeks, and although Adams' play has left a lot to be desired, Tomlin isn't ready to hand the job back to Gilbert. Gilbert practiced fully last week, but was a surprise inactive before the Falcons game. Practice will unveil who emerges as the starting tackle against the Chiefs, and with Kansas City's pass rush fans should be hoping Gilbert is back in at his normal position.
Some might say the competition this late in the season can be a distraction for a team looking to make it's first postseason since 2012, but it also could have positive implications with players fighting for their jobs and never easing up. Mike Tomlin knows what buttons to push with his team, and after winning 6 of their last 8 games fans should trust his judgement as the team sits in the driver seat for a playoff spot, and the AFC North title.