As Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is set to begin, Behind the Steel Curtain takes a look at each position battle and how players at those positions are expected to perform.
PITTSBURGH -- This Steelers wide receivers are the most-experienced from top to bottom that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had since the club made him the 11th overall pick in 2004, and that could lead to his best season yet.
Antonio Brown is the leader of this wideout group, an amazing feat in just his fifth NFL season, but he already is a superstar. Brown might be more of showboat than past Steelers top receivers, but he is infinitely more talented. He can run and catch as well as anybody, but he's not too big. Still, Brown had 110 catches for 1,499 yards (13.6 per catch) and eight touchdowns last season, but with better surrounding talent his numbers could increase.
Former New Orleans Saints wideout Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey should secure two receiving spots, while second-year player Markus Wheaton and 6-foot-4 rookie Martavis Bryant from Clemson could secure the remaining wideout spots. Bryant is the tall receiver that Roethlisberger has coveted since he entered the league.
So, while Brown was highly productive last season and appeared during the spring to be ready for another big year, few players have been as successful as Moore in recent seasons. He had 345 catches for 4,271 yards and 38 touchdowns during the past seven seasons with the Saints. He didn't play much during the initial two of his nine years in the NFL. And his late success could be a product of having Drew Brees as a quarterback, but Moore proved this spring that he could be a clutch slot receiver for the Steelers. And his experience can't be overlooked.
Heyward-Bey could be the wild card of the group. He had 105 catches and nine touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders from 2011-12, but those numbers dropped to just 29 catches for 309 yards and one score for the Indianapolis Colts last year. His inconsistency and underachieving (as the seventh overall pick in 2009) make him a question mark for the Steelers, but a change of scenery could prove to be just what Heyward-Bey needed. He had a few drops in the spring, but his work ethic was not in question.
Like others in their respective draft classes, Wheaton and Bryant need to produce this season. Wheaton's rookie campaign was hampered by a finger injury, but he is healthy now and looked good -- even though his finger looked pretty bad -- during the spring. Wheaton had a solid group of OTAs and mini-camp. Bryant was inconsistent, but he made some plays that certainly would be welcome during the upcoming season.
Wheaton joined Justin Brown and Derek Moye in California with Roethlisberger, but they are long shots to make the final roster. They are practice squad candidates, but either could make the team if one of the others falters. Each one of them had a pretty good spring, so their hard work could pay off.
Kashif Moore, Lanear Sampson, Danny Coale and C.J. Goodwin are other wideout candidates, but neither is likely to make the final roster. That doesn't mean they can't play somewhere in the league, but it won't be with the Steelers' top group. Either could make the practice squad.