Pittsburgh Steelers: Projecting the Top Training Camp Battles
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The Pittsburgh Steelers' training camp is still more than two months away, but now that the draft has wrapped up and the rookie free agents have been signed, it's easy to see which should be the most contested positional battles once camp begins.
Here are three of the biggest camp battles I project for the Steelers this year.
Nos. 1 and 2 Running Backs
It seems an easy assumption to say that Isaac Redman will be the Steelers' No. 1 back if Rashard Mendenhall indeed misses the season while he recovers from his ACL tear and subsequent surgery, but that potentially may not be the case.
With Todd Haley as new offensive coordinator, it's hard to tell just how the Steelers' run game is going to look. Haley has had success building both top running and passing offenses, and he builds his playbook to the strength of the players on the team.
He's going into this year cold, so without Mendenhall on the field, the top two running-back roster spots will be very much up for grabs. Redman has the edge, to be sure, but there are four other backs on the team who will be fighting to spell—or outperform—him.
Right now, aside from Redman, the team has Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey on the depth chart. Both Clay and Dwyer got a few carries apiece last season, Batch missed the year with an ACL tear he suffered in training camp and Rainey was selected in last week's draft.
It's unclear what direction Haley wants to take with the ground attack, which works to all five backs' benefit. They'll all clearly be trying to outshine each other and earn coveted playing time come the regular season. Expect this battle to be the biggest in camp.
Currently, the Steelers have four quarterbacks on their roster not named Ben Roethlisberger—and they're likely to add a fifth soon (perhaps Oregon's Darron Thomas), at least for the rookie minicamp—all of whom are going to try to be No. 2 on the depth chart.
Pittsburgh brought back both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich in recent weeks, and they also have Troy Smith and Jerrod Johnson on their roster, both added in January.
Roethlisberger's backup is more important than the backup quarterback position on most other teams.
Big Ben is injury-prone, thanks to his style of play, combined with a shaky offensive line (which should be far less shaky this year, at least), so whoever is deemed his No. 2 needs to be able to perform well on the field for perhaps more than one game.
The battle is likely to come down to Leftwich vs. Batch, and the lesser performer of Smith and Johnson will probably find himself cut from the team once the roster needs to be pared down.
Though Batch has more experience on the Steelers' roster, he is 37 (Leftwich is 32) and Leftwich has as much locker-room support and respect as Batch.
Signs currently point to Leftwich being Roethlisberger's primary backup, while Batch and likely Smith battle it out for the third-string job. With Haley at the helm, however, things may not be so clear. He'll likely want a full-on competition between the four non-Roethlisberger passers.
Cornerback William Gay left for the Arizona Cardinals in free agency, opening up a starting spot in the secondary. The Steelers aren't lacking corners or defensive backs, and as such, the battle to snag Gay's former spot will be intense.
Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis seem to be the two most capable of taking over a starting role. Lewis has the edge, if his 2011 stats are any indicator.
Lewis had 30 solo tackles and an interception last year compared to Allen's 15 tackles and no picks; of course, Allen also had less playing time and was a rookie.
That's part of what makes this battle so interesting. The other part is that the Steelers have seven players on their roster (not counting starting corner Ike Taylor) currently designated as corners or defensive backs (and yes, one of the listed corners is Myron Rolle, which may or may not be a typo), all of whom are going to be doing their best to unseat Allen and Lewis as the top two contenders for the spot.
Any time there's a camp battle where seven players are competing for a lone spot, things get quite interesting. Expect this to be quite the heated competition.
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