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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.