July 26th, the Pittsburgh Steelers return to Latrobe, Pennsylvania’s St Vincent College for the start of this year’s training camp. Most Steeler fans can’t wait for this to get started as we’ve been in about a two months-long drought of actual news on our beloved Steelers since the draft. What will be the “Big Story” from this year’s training camp?
There will certainly be stories of unheralded rookie efforts to make the team to go along with depth chart battles between players whose names we already know. Fan favorite statuses will be earned by a handful of these guys. We will all root for this competition in training camp to produce a better performance when the Steelers' regular season starts on September 10th.
There’s almost an entire new ILB room with no established pecking order- Holcomb, Roberts, Robinson, Muse, Kwiatkoski.
The CB room has plenty of new faces with experience ranging from none to a ton-Porter Jr, Trice, Sullivan, Peterson.
The same can be said for the WR3,4,5 group-Robinson, Austin, Boykin, Butler, White.
The interior OL seems to be set, but 3 dogs are fighting for 2 bones at the OT position-Moore, Okorafor, Jones.
Some are even intrigued by the competition for the Punter position. Mann or Harvin, Harvin or Mann. The issue that will surely divide us all. Let the debate begin!
None of these roster battles is what I refer to as a “Big Story,” however. If you want to know what I think a truly Big Story is let me take you all the way back to, well just back to 2021 Steelers Training Camp. We had three Big Stories break around this time of year.
First, there was David DeCastro.
The first Big Story happened June 24th when the Steelers released David DeCastro. DeCastro had missed only seven starts in the previous eight seasons, was named All-Pro twice times, and made six Pro Bowls. He had played the previous season with a nagging ankle injury. During the three-day June minicamp, an MRI revealed that a third surgery was going to be required on DeCastro’s injured ankle and it was presumed at the time that this could be the end for DD. An unexpected retirement is what it became.
Then, there was Vince Williams.
The next Big Story broke on July 21st when Vince Williams announced his retirement. Vince was the Steelers' second leading tackler in 2020 and had started an average of 13 games over the previous 4 seasons but was released in a salary cap move in March. He was re-signed in April to a veteran minimum contract. While Vince had a 2020 salary of $4M, he was scheduled to make just $1.075M in 2021. Vince had been dealing with a quad tear suffered the previous year and the combination of the lowered salary and rehabbing from his injury and not knowing his role in the linebacker room (was he still a team leader, a starter, a backup?) led him to unexpectedly retire as well.
Nothing Tuitt but to do it (and hold-in during a contract negotiation)
The third Big Story from that training camp started on July 28th and would continue with no end. The 28th was the first day of Steelers training camp practices. Notably, Stephon Tuitt did not participate in the practices. Did Tuitt “need” to practice? Not at all. The 7 year veteran DE was coming off of his best season. He had a career highs with 15 games started (missed one being on the Covid list), 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, 10 tackles for loss, and 25 QB hits. While he didn’t get recognized with All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors, Tuitt was a dominant force and a key piece of the Steelers defense. As we learned, Stephon was dealing with grief due to losing his brother that June. It was also rumored he had a nagging injury that was keeping him off of the practice field. Little did we know at the time but Stephon Tuitt would never play football again and he officially retired a year later on June 1st of 2022.
In 2021 over five weeks time, from June 24th to July 28th, the Steelers unexpectedly learned that three starters from the 2020 season would not be available to them anymore. It was too late to sign top notch free agents or draft young talent as replacements. The day after DeCastro was released Pittsburgh signed Trai Turner. Turner was not offered a contract by the Steelers after that 2021 season. Three weeks after Williams retired the Steelers traded a sixth round pick to the Jaguars in exchange for LB Joe Schobert. Schobert would be released after his lone year in the Black and Gold. Rotational piece Chris Wormley who had started only once in 2020 was depended on to fill Tuitt’s shoes, starting 14 games at DE in 2021 and then back to his rotational role with 1 start in 2022. All the Steelers could muster was three band-aid solutions to three gaping wounds on the roster.
Those were truly Big Stories. Let’s just please have standard training camp battle stories this year. Here’s to hoping we don’t hear any such Big Stories in 2023!