Pittsburgh Steelers, rookies always have to work extremely hard to find their ways onto the field, with anything more than special teams duty or random relief appearances.
Every so often, a special player gets some real playing time in his first season.
Here's one bold prediction for each of the team's rookies as we speed on toward training camp.
DeCastro will make the Pro Bowl as a rookie and reestablish the tradition of great guard play that Alan Faneca established over a decade ago.
To me, DeCastro is perfect for a starting guard in the NFL. I held him as a top ten talent in the draft and thought, along with many others, that he'd go much, much higher than he did.
When the Steelers selected him, I think even they were quite surprised.
DeCastro is already, in my opinion, better than at least half of the starting guards in the NFL. He played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, and in a system that I think will be similar to what the Steelers plan on using.
If DeCastro doesn't make the Pro Bowl as a rookie, it won't be because he isn't good enough. It will be because other guards on other teams simply were more well-known or played at the same high level we expect.
Adams will, within a few regular season games, begin to remind people of the team's last great tackle: Marvel Smith.
I think a lot has been made of Adams' off-field problems and the fact that he was finishing school and unable to make it to OTAs. I don't think that should matter when we talk about what this guy is going to do on the field in the fall.
Adams is going to have to make some adjustments, particularly if he's starting at left tackle. That's a big job for a veteran. There are rookies who've done it, but it isn't easy for them either.
I think once Adams gets through a few games of adjusting to the NFL, he will solve the team's long search for a left tackle to fully replace Max Starks. He's shown since his Combine gaffe that he has a good head on his shoulders and has his eyes on the prize.
If anything, that incident might do more to motivate him and help him than anything.
Spence will finish in the top five for sacks on the Steelers defense.
This is pretty bold. If you imagine that four starting linebackers will have the most sacks, then slot Spence among them or right behind them, you're leaving some other players out.
Here's how it shakes out to me.
This guy makes plays. He's not a coverage linebacker and he won't likely be used in that way. He'll be asked to go in and foul up the play on the field however possible.
I don't think he'll be a starter, although the thought that he might be James Farrior's replacement by the end of the year has crossed my mind.
Larry Foote figures to start it out though. We'll see how much the old guy has left.
I think he'll be a situational rusher who comes in at key moments and in specialty packages. We've seen how Dick LeBeau works with the strengths of Troy Polamalu. Expect a similar treatment with Spence, as long as he performs well leading up to the big show.
Ta'amu will start at least eight of the team's 16 regular season games.
First off, this might come true almost by default. I don't think you'll find anyone who'd argue that Ta'amu isn't already an upgrade over Steve McLendon. I think you might even find people who think he's better than Casey Hampton will be in 2012.
Here's what I know for sure.
Hampton can't go on much longer. If Ta'amu comes in and shows up like the player Pittsburgh believed they drafted, he might unseat Hampton completely.
Hampton is tutoring him a lot, so the writing is on the wall there.
If Hampton isn't ready to begin the season as a starter, Ta'amu will be in his place. If Hampton is ready to begin the season between the defensive ends, he might still be on the bench in favor of the rookie.
Hampton will play a role at some point, but his days as a starter might be over.
Rainey will have at least five offensive plays of more than 20 yards in his rookie season.
That may seem less bold than other items in this article, but think about where Rainey is at.
He's not been mentioned a lot in the running back competition. He seems to actually be viewed as more of a receiver who can also run than the other way around.
What I do know is his speed will help the offense. There's another reason beyond that, though, that I'm betting I'm right here.
He's a similar player and was a big piece of Todd Haley's offense. Rainey has blazing speed and can come out of the backfield or split out wide. That dual threat capability will make him useful.
I don't see him spending a lot of any game on the bench.
Clemons will make the roster and have as many touchdown catches as Jerricho Cotchery or Emmanuel Sanders.
Now we're going to be reaching a little. Clemons has to make the roster first.
That's no easy task, given the sheer amount of talented wide receivers in camp vying for what can only be one or two spots. If you view Chris Rainey as a receiver, that number goes down.
Let's say he does.
He has great skills and I'd liken him to a Mike Wallace in the making. I'm not saying he'll be there now, or next season even, but he has that kind of potential.
If he gets himself on the field, he could be a returner and part-time receiver. I think if he proves his ability to make plays, he'll get Ben Roethlisberger's attention.
Big Ben spreads the ball around pretty well, so Clemons has a chance to grab a few touchdowns for himself.
Paulson will beat out Leonard Pope and be the team's third tight end.
Pope knows the Haley system. I don't think that Weslye Saunders is in much danger, despite the suspension he will serve. Maybe Paulson makes it as his temporary replacement, then had to be cut to the practice squad.
Paulson has better skills and a ton of potential. That's something.
The Steelers have always thought outside the box with tight ends. They have one less now that David Johnson is working exclusively at fullback.
If Paulson is going to make it, he'll need a good showing. Just getting that far is going to be tough.
If he doesn't make it in Pittsburgh, however, I think another team will pick him up.
Frederick will become the next Anthony Madison and make his early name as a special teams guru.
This is another case where making the team is going to be tough.
This one is a bit easier. The team needs depth at corner. They don't have a lot of spare parts there anymore. Frederick is a good player who may eventually develop into a solid nickel or dime back.
Right now, his best chance to play will be on special teams. The team doesn't have Anthony Madison in the bullpen—they need a new savior.
That could be Frederick, who is fast and has good instincts.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold in camp but, so far, Frederick has been excellent.
Beachum will make it as a backup at the guard spot.
The team's previous starters are now their backup guards. They have a couple of guys who can play anywhere along the line. The need for a straight backup guard doesn't seem so big.
Add in that Beachum came out of a smaller program and that he's pretty raw—it's very questionable whether he can stick.
What I like is that he's a big guy who can hold his ground. I'm not saying that's a lot, but it is something that will catch the eye of Sean Kugler and Todd Haley.
Kugler needs linemen like that. Considering all the injuries the team has suffered along the line in recent years, they can use all the help they can get.
I think Beachum can make the cut. He might be a guy who doesn't dress each week, but he'll be there if things get rough again.