As the Pittsburgh Steelers head to training camp and into the preseason next week, it's time to get ready and get excited. The 2012 NFL season finally feels like it's here. The months of hype and build-up are now at an end.
Consider this your one-stop shop for everything Pittsburgh Steelers-related in regards to camp and the preseason. Inside you'll find all the burning questions, roster battles, camp guides, roster predictions and other goodies that you'll need as you get ready to strap yourself in for another exciting NFL season.
Who will start at nose tackle if Casey Hampton isn’t ready?
The short answer is Alameda Ta’amu. The long answer includes the qualifier “if he’s ready.” The best situation is for Hampton to be ready to play and be used only on running downs. Ta’amu is more mobile and athletic and can take the passing downs.
Steve McLendon will have some say too, but how much long-term impact he can have remains to be seen. If he can have a good camp, the Steelers might have some thinking to do.
How will Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery fit into the offense?
Sanders is the flashy guy, Cotchery makes the sure catches. Both will be important now that Hines Ward has hung up his cleats. I think Cotchery is going to be a bigger factor in the red zone, where the Steelers need more and better production.
Sanders is going to be an extra deep threat and will probably get more cracks at the slot receiver position. He has to prove his health first, however. If that’s done, he can have a breakout season.
How much more emphasis on the run will there really be?
Ah, now this is the question everyone is eager to know the answer to. The problem is we won’t know until the end of the preseason really how different this offense is from what Bruce Arians concocted. My guess is we are in for a pleasant surprise.
I think that the Steelers will emphasize more efficiency and effectiveness in the run game over more sheer carries. A lot will depend on how well the runners perform and how well the blocking holds up with the new pieces. A more efficient and effective attack will be better than a more robust level of carries.
Can Stevenson Sylvester out-shine an elder and a rookie?
I don’t think so anymore. I was very high on this guy for a while, but looking at the tape on Sean Spence and seeing how much Larry Foote wants his job back has been a powerful mind-changer. Sylvester’s near-disappearance hasn’t helped his cause.
This is his last real chance. The team won’t look his way again if he can’t do something big this year and he may even end up off the roster if he doesn’t shape up his game. He’ll be an interesting case to watch, but I don’t see him winning the battle.
Who will start at corner opposite Ike Taylor?
If this isn’t the most-watched battle in camp, I’ll be surprised. Everyone wants to know who will win this game of corner roulette. The principle combatants all have talent and all have a good chance, but who wins might be determined by experience over intangibles.
I think the smart move is to let this play for the entire preseason and then make a call. I like Curtis Brown, however. I think he’s a special player waiting to bloom and that he’ll give Keenan Lewis one tough fight. In the end, I think Lewis will win out on experience with Brown the next man up.
How are Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger getting along?
I put this on here because I know it’s going to get brought up the first time the two of them don’t look like best buddies on the sideline. I, however, don’t see this as a problem and I think Roethlisberger will benefit from a more adversarial coach.
If Haley does a better job of holding Roethlisberger accountable for mistakes and using them as teachable moments, he can help the elite quarterback grow even more as a player. That is a truly scary thought for anyone else in the NFL.
Rookies are always on the bubble and Frederick isn’t the only one on this list. He has a good chance of making the team, but it’s going to take a good preseason. Last year, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown shipped Crezdon Butler away. This year, Frederick has to do the same.
There are a ton of moving parts here. How the team values running back Chris Rainey and his speed and receiving ability will factor into this decision. How well Clemons plays will also be a huge deciding vote. Also, there are a ton of other talented receivers in camp, so how they play will determine a lot. Right now, Clemons has a lot of work to do.
This is a huge ouch. Sylvester once was thought to be the next big thing at linebacker for Pittsburgh. Now, a rookie and a veteran have out-shone him so far. That’s not unbeatable, but he’s got a big hole to dig out of. He also didn’t take a huge step last year like many hoped. This will likely be his last chance.
With Jonathan Scott now cut, the offensive line may have just enough room for Beachum to sneak in as a backup guard. He’s on the bubble because of the experience already at guard, but if he can carve out a versatile backup profile by playing some tackle or center, he may still have a good shot at this roster.
If it weren’t for that four-game suspension, I think this would be a moot thing. Saunders is a talented young player. The Steelers love his athleticism. His off-field problems, however, will force them to make a choice at the beginning of the season. If he does enough, he’ll stay and they’ll work around it. If he gets out-shone, he’s in trouble.
One of the guys batting Saunders is Pope, who comes over from the Chiefs. He has experience in Todd Haley’s offense already, but that’s about his only card to play. Beyond that, he’s a solid, unspectacular tight end that is a good blocker and receiver. I’m curious to see how well he fits in.
One-trick ponies don’t usually do well today in the NFL. Clay is a big, bruising runner that is basically a goal-line back. He doesn’t have many other major attributes, but that single one is of great value in Pittsburgh, where the team hasn’t been good at punching it in.
The Steelers, for the first time since Dan Kreider, will have a full-time fullback. That job will go to either Will or David Johnson. The other Johnson is a converted tight end. He also has experience. I think he has the inside track, but Will Johnson will get a look too. Remember what I said about one-trick ponies though.
McLendon has been a solid part-time piece for this team for a couple years now, but he’s never been spectacular. That’s a trend on this list. If Alameda Ta’amu proves a better immediate option instead of him and Casey Hampton is ready to play, McLendon’s roster spot might be better-used on an extra corner or receiver.
The Steelers decided to bring another veteran long-snapper into camp this year for whatever reason. That tells me all might not be well with Warren’s roster spot. He’s been mostly solid for Pittsburgh and rarely makes a mistake, but he has had some injury issues in the past. That hasn’t happened in awhile, but Matt Katula might have some ability to unseat him with a strong showing.
I really am excited to see how Brown does on defense after being the team’s top special teamer last year. The guy has a ton of big play potential and we’re going to get a good look at it while he battles for the starting job.
Lewis has predicted a Pro Bowl year. That means that every fan should get their popcorn ready for the show. No, I’m not talking about how he will definitely do that, but he will work tirelessly to get there. That alone will be worth watching. It’s always fun to see a young player blossom. This could be Lewis’ year.
Allen had a solid rookie year even though he didn’t get a lot of opportunities. I will be curious to see how he does now that he’s got a shot to start. He surprised many last year simply by making the team and dressing for many games. If he can prove himself, he could get a lot of time this year.
Redman is ascending to the starting job at running back, a hallowed job in this town. How he plays will be a huge factor in the team’s success in 2012. He will likely be the team’s most watched starter in many respects. There are players lined up behind him begging for a chance too, so failure isn’t an option for him.
Speaking of players lined up behind Redman, Batch is in that line. He’s a versatile player that almost everyone seems excited about, but he has to prove he’s ready after a knee injury prematurely ended his training camp in 2011. The former seventh-rounder has a shot to be huge this year. He’ll be fun to watch.
Dwyer is another runner that I’ve wanted to see blossom for awhile, but injuries or the depth chart have been against him. Now he has a chance to really bloom. If Dwyer can prove his 100-yard game last year wasn’t a fluke, he might steal some of Redman’s spotlight.
The fact that he fell all the way to Pittsburgh in the draft’s first round has been much-discussed. Now we see how well he walks the talk. If he shows up ready to play and proves he was a top ten talent in that draft class, the Steelers have the next Alan Faneca.
The doubters point to his off-field issues. The fans point to his first-round ability. Either way, it will be intriguing to see how it ends. Adams has a ton of talent and I see him being a future star. The Steelers trust him so much they want to make him their left tackle. That’s high praise.
There’ve been comparisons to Troy Polamalu in terms of style of play and the potential he has. That’s lofty, but not entirely unfounded. Spence was one of those hidden draft gems the Steelers usually luck into each year. I think he’ll be a major contributor as a rookie and that he might even end up getting plays specifically designed for him.
Every now and again, an old flame comes back. That might be Foote with the Steelers this year. He has shown up this season with the deep desire to win back the starting job he used to hold. He has played well and looks to be in wonderful shape already. He’s cemented his front-runner status too. It’ll be fun to see if he can really make it back to 2008 form.
Sanders is one of the most entertaining players on the team (follow him on Twitter and Facebook if you don’t believe me) and he’s pretty good when he’s on the field too. Sanders missed a large chunk of time for injuries last year and this year he’s fighting to be the slot receiver again. He should win that job. After that, he’ll focus on being this year’s Antonio Brown.
Starting Cornerback (Keenan Lewis vs. Curtis Brown vs. Cortez Allen)
This is the top battle in camp. It's one of only two starting jobs up for grabs and this one is even more essential because of the team’s history at the position. If someone can finally solidify that spot, it will be a momentous year.
Lewis has the early inside track. He’s got the most experience and has really taken ownership of this battle in the early practices. He’s even predicted he’ll make the Pro Bowl. The time will now be to walk the talk.
Brown is the big-play guy. He has the most potential but the least experience. He’ll get plenty of chances in the preseason to show he’s the guy and I’d rate him as the second-best player in this battle, but only by a small margin.
Allen is another second-year guy and he’s a good player, but he’s also one that does a lot of things well but none of them stand out. He could surprise and he had a good rookie campaign, but there are just no guarantees. I feel like he may be best suited as a nickel or dime player.
Starting Inside Linebacker (Stevenson Sylvester vs. Larry Foote vs. Sean Spence)
This is the other starting job that’s up for debate. James Farrior is retired now, so someone new will step in next to Lawrence Timmons. Until the draft, it seemed like Stevenson Sylvester would get the first opportunity. Then the team targeted Dont’a Hightower. When he didn’t become their first selection, Sylvester was back in favor.
Spence is a bit of an afterthought, but I think he’ll get a lot of playing time regardless. He should eventually have this job as long as he proves his mettle here. Foote is the wild card. Until practices began, he was the backup on the bubble. Then he showed up ready to go.
Now, Foote has to be the favorite. Sylvester hasn’t been nearly as effective. Foote has more experience in this system and is a good stopgap while Spence grows for a year or someone else emerges. I think he’ll win out and that the other two will get some snaps to give him a breather.
Backup Quarterback (Charlie Batch vs. Byron Leftwich)
This battle is interesting mostly because it’s almost a yearly thing nowadays. The Steelers have stuck by their three signal callers for a long time. Jerrod Johnson is in camp, but I don’t see him as a threat to anyone. It would take a huge shock.
Batch is the elder here, which may hurt him some, but he’s also the healthier of the two in recent seasons. Leftwich has the better arm. It’s really anyone’s guess who ends up where. Both players are very similar in their limitations and experience levels.
I’d say Batch might still have the edge since he’s been around longer, but I can’t be sure. The preseason will tell the tale once again. Unless someone gets hurt, it’s these two guys or bust.
Backup Running Back (Jonathan Dwyer vs. Baron Batch)
All of the running backs are fighting for jobs. The primary backup is going to be the interesting battle, however. Dwyer and Batch have injury issues but look healthy. I don’t think anyone else has a prayer in this battle.
Batch is the more versatile player and I fully expect him to be the third-down back regardless of how this turns out. Dwyer is very similar to Isaac Redman and has good burst and an ability to bust through tackles. If Todd Haley wants a different look, Batch is probably the guy.
I have really liked what Batch has shown so far (no slight to Dwyer either), so I’m going to go with him in this battle. I just think he has the bigger upside.
Punter (Drew Butler vs. Jeremy Kapinos)
While this might be a bit of a yawn, this battle is very important given how much the Steelers like to use field position to their advantage. Butler and Kapinos are about dead-even in skill-set and strength. Butler is a better directional punter.
That might be what decides this one. I like Butler better to win, but I also feel for Kapinos, the team’s “relief punter” for two years. He’s been very good and experience is important at any position. This one will go down to the very end unless someone blinks first.
The Steelers will hold open afternoon practices at 2:55pm starting on Friday, July 27 and continuing daily until Friday, August 17. There are a couple of exceptions to this schedule, which I will highlight below:
The campus is closed to the public on July 30 and August 6, 10 and 13. During this time, the players are off for the day.
There will be no practices in the afternoon at St. Vincent College on Friday, August 3 or Wednesday, August 8. On August 3, the Steelers will be holding an evening practice (7pm) at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium. On the 8th, they will be in transit to Philadelphia for their preseason games.
During the open afternoon practices, fans can also take in the UPMC Steelers Experience from 1:30pm to 6pm at the college.
The Steelers play four preseason games, two at home and two on the road. Here’s the schedule:
Thursday, August 9th, 7:30pm: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, August 19th, 8pm: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts
Saturday, August 25th, 7pm: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Thursday, August 30th, 7pm: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers
Except for the August 19th game against the Colts, all games will be televised locally on KDKA. The Colts game will be televised on NBC/WPXI.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have trained at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, PA since 1967. The camp officially begins on July 25th when rookies and veterans must report to camp by 4pm. It will continue at St. Vincent College until Saturday, August 18th. At that point, the Steelers will begin practicing in Pittsburgh at their regular facilities.
The Steelers’ first official full practice will take place on July 26th. This practice is not open to the public. They practice several times during the day unless they are working on other activities. Only the afternoon practices (beginning at 2:55pm) are open for the public to see.
The Steelers moved to St. Vincent College after training many other places during the first half of the franchise’s long history. The Steelers practiced at St. Vincent in 1966 as they returned from their camp site in Rhode Island and then made it their permanent home the following season.
DeCastro will likely slot in immediately as the starting right guard. There’s almost no chance he wouldn’t make the roster (it would take an injury or an awful miracle). He’s considered a top guard prospect and should help solidify the team’s run-blocking. Comparisons to Alan Faneca are warranted if he lives up to his billing. His ability to pull will be important as the team tries to re-establish their rushing attack.
Adams was a surprise selection given his off-field issues at the Scouting Combine. The Steelers received a personal apology from him and he’s shown up great so far. It will be interesting to see if he can truly win the starting left tackle job, especially now that Max Starks has returned. He will make the roster and will likely win that job.
Spence was another mildly surprising selection, but his ability to make big plays and operate in the same way as Troy Polamalu makes this selection important. Spence may be in the mix for a starting inside linebacker spot, but more than likely will be a backup that sees considerable time in special packages. Dick LeBeau and Keith Butler may devise specific ways to get him on the field.
Ta’amu fell to the Steelers and they may have gotten a huge steal. If Ta’amu lives up to expectations, he could be the team’s primary nose tackle by the end of the season and he will likely push Steve McLendon for a roster spot. If it’s between the two, Ta’amu will likely win given that he’s considered the team’s future nose man.
Rainey’s speed and receiving ability make him an interesting player to watch. He may see some snaps at wide receiver and will likely push Baron Batch for playing time and possibly for a roster spot. I would envision him being used in the same was as Haley used Dexter McCluster, so he may not even be viewed as a running back by Pittsburgh.
Clemons has drawn some lofty comparisons so far from fans who’ve seen him play in college and we will now find out if he has what it takes to make the roster as the fifth receiver. Rainey may factor into this battle if his receiving ability is indeed what is valued most, but Clemons has a lot of upside in the same was as Antonio Brown did when he was selected in the draft.
Whether or not Frederick makes the roster will depend on just how many corners the Steelers plan to employ. If they are only keeping four or five, he is going to be in quite the battle. If they keep six, he will likely have no trouble making the team. If nothing else, he will end up on the practice squad because he has potential as a nickel corner down the line.
Paulson is an interesting case. He is an excellent blocker and receiver and he could fit very well into the team’s system. The trouble is that Paulson is on the roster bubble because the Steelers have so many effective and talented tight ends in camp. If he can beat out Weslye Saunders or Leonard Pope, then he will be on the team. He may even need to outshine both.
Beachum, the team’s final draft pick, faces an uphill battle for the roster. The Steelers have a ton of established offensive linemen in camp this year and Beachum doesn’t really have a distinguishing feature thus far. He could surprise, but at this point I’d place him squarely on the outside. It will be interesting to see if the team tries him at tackle or center as well to test his versatility.
Linebackers are going to have a hard time making this team, especially with all of the ones that are in camp. The Steelers have three established starters and plenty of established backups. Ahead of Baker is another layer of player who’ve been around a year or so he might outshine, but overall this is going to be a short camp for the LSU product. He could push for a practice squad spot, but he’s got stiff competition for that.
Of all of the undrafted players in camp, Butler is the most likely to make this team and play a considerable role. Butler is a punter and will be competing with Jeremy Kapinos for a roster spot. He has the leg and the accuracy to win such a battle. I think he’ll do so and I think he’ll be able to solidify the team’s punting position.
There are a few corners in camp beyond the regulars and all will get a chance to compete for a backup job. Carter is the most promising of the undrafted corners (along with Andre Freeman), but I still feel like Terrence Frederick will be ahead of him. He is a real candidate for the practice squad if he can play special teams.
Freeman is from tiny Slippery Rock in northwestern Pennsylvania, but he is a hard hitter and a solid coverage player. The lack of big competition is worrisome, but it will be interesting to see how he performs if he can get into a preseason game. If this happens and he can hit, he’ll be in a good spot to make the team and shock everyone.
The safety positions appear very solid on the roster already, so Golden is probably in the same boat as Baker. He will likely be in camp for a brief spell and be among the first cuts. I’m not sure the team has the playing time to get him into a game, but he could get into the first game if he’s lucky.
With Shaun Suisham a more established and accurate kicker, Hrapmann is only here to help out during the preseason. He could establish himself for another team to pick up once he’s cut, however. Kickers usually get a lot of time to show off in the preseason as teams don’t want to wear down a regular.
Igbinosun is an interesting prospect and could make some noise if the Steelers consider keeping four defensive ends. The small school product has some great skills and fits the style of Pittsburgh ends. The question is whether or not he can translate to this level. He will bear watching this preseason.
Lee is the only true center in camp besides starter Maurkice Pouncey, but I don’t see that helping him make the roster. Trai Essex and Doug Legursky are more established linemen and both have shown a good ability at center before. Lee will have to show something special (much like Legursky once did) to make this team.
Maze has a chance. He’s a wide receiver and the Steelers may keep six. If they do, he’ll still have some stiff competition. Maze is a playmaker though and he could end up being the kind of player that can really succeed in the creative system employed by Todd Haley.
What I said for Baker goes for Robinson. Linebackers have very little chance of making this team. Robinson, out of Temple, could set himself up as a special teamer if he can get some playing time in the first preseason game. Otherwise, he’ll be out fast.
Stoller is out of Yale. He will face the same kind of competition as Igbinosun does. Stoller doesn’t have any easier time and he’s probably not as talented as Igbinosun seems to be. I think Stoller might be a fit for a different team, but Pittsburgh probably is not his future home.
Leonard Pope, TE
Pope came over from Kansas City, so he knows Todd Haley’s system. He’s going to face some competition to make this roster, however. The Steelers have Heath Miller already established as a starter and backup Weslye Saunders with a lot of talent. They also have rookie David Paulson in camp. It will be interesting to see if Pope can crack the lineup, but his experience in the system may give him some kind of edge.
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia
The Steelers and Eagles play annually in the preseason. This year, they will also face off in the regular season. Consider this game nothing close to a preview. The starters will likely only play a series or two. The Steelers will be testing out their new offense for the first time, so expect a lot of passing, especially early. The Eagles have the most-talented secondary in the NFL, so it will be fun to see how the first offensive series unfold for Pittsburgh.
The most important matchups here are going to be the backup quarterbacks against the many members of the Eagles’ secondary. How Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich play against these top players will determine a lot about who ends up with the second string job. I’m also curious to see how Philadelphia’s front seven matches up with the Pittsburgh running backs. The Steelers backs will all be fighting for depth chart positioning, so expect a lot of carries spread around.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 27, Philadelphia 16
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh
The Colts bring rookie Andrew Luck to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a game where starters are likely to get about a half of the game to play, that means Luck will get his first big test against a top defense. The marquee matchup has to be James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley versus Luck and the offensive line.
On the Pittsburgh side, this will be the first chance to see Ben Roethlisberger and the team’s offense in the new system for more than a few plays. How the receivers adapt to the new system will be interesting to watch and I expect the ball to be spread around to give everyone some tries. The running game will be big in this game as the Colts struggle to stop it regularly.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 35, Indianapolis 17
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
The Steelers travel to Buffalo for their third preseason contest and this will be the most extended action for the team’s starters. The marquee matchup here will be on defense as Ryan Fitzpatrick tries to prove his improved accuracy against last year’s top secondary.
This team will throw the ball a lot, so I expect to get a good look at the cornerback battle, which by now should be well-defined. I’d expect the team to rotate Curtis Brown, Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen throughout the game at both the starting spot and the nickel position. This might be where the battle is decided.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 27, Buffalo 20
Carolina at Pittsburgh
Just like last year, the Steelers will close out the preseason schedule with the Carolina Panthers. The Steelers play the Panthers every year as well. The starters will likely play the first quarter and then part of the second before exiting, but key men could see less time.
This will be the perfect time to examine the backup quarterbacks again to see exactly how they best fit. It will also be a good opportunity to see the tight end battle, one of the few that will likely go down to the wire this year. How each of those players performs will be a big part of the team’s success. This will also be a very dry game in regards to play calling. No one wants to tip their hand.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 20, Carolina 10