Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Backups Who Would Start for Other Teams
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of decisions to make in training camp.
They have to decide who they want on the team. When that's worked out, they have to decide who will start.
A lot of starting jobs already are locked down, but a few will be won during those steamy August afternoons at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
Whichever way the dominoes fall, it's quite likely the 53 players the Steelers bring to Denver on Sept. 9 will include backups who would start for other teams.
Cortez Allen, CB
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Cortez Allen might not be a backup cornerback much longer. He could beat out Keenan Lewis for the starting cornerback job opposite Ike Taylor.
The Steelers needed all the secondary help they could get when Tom Brady came to Heinz Field last season, and Allen lent a helping hand.
The rookie was in on perhaps the most crucial tackle of the game, helping William Gay take down mammoth Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski a half-yard short on a 3rd-and-8 play. That forced the Patriots to punt on their opening series of the second half.
The Steelers kicked a field goal on their next possession to take a 20-10 lead in a game they'd eventually win, 25-17, beating Tom Brady for the first time since George W. Bush's first term in office.
Allen played in nine games on defense in 2011, according to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. The 6'1", 196-pounder has decent size for the position and plenty of upside.
He injured his shoulder in the regular-season finale at Cleveland and was out for the Steelers' playoff game in Denver. They could have used him.
Max Starks, OT
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The drafting of David DeCastro and Mike Adams is supposed to signal a new day for the Steelers offensive line.
With all that euphoria, Steelers fans don't want to be reminded of the old offensive line, but that's just what would happen if Starks is starting on opening day.
The Steelers monitored Starks' recovery from ACL surgery during the offseason and signed him as insurance in case Adams isn't ready to start at one of the tackle positions.
As frustrating as it would be to see Starks starting, that's how comforting it would be to have him as a backup. It would provide the Steelers offensive line with some depth.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times in the first four games last season before the Steelers signed Starks in Week 5. Roethlisberger was sacked 26 times after Starks began protecting his blind side.
So while Roethlisberger was sacked 40 times last season, it could have been worse. He was on pace to be sacked 56 times before Starks arrived.
Does that mean Starks is the envy of every team that needs a left tackle? No.
But the ninth-year veteran probably could do the job at right tackle for a lot of teams.
Leonard Pope, TE
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Leonard Pope essentially came with the package when the Steelers hired Todd Haley as offensive coordinator.
Pope is no stranger to Haley, and he's no stranger to starting.
The tight end has started at least six games in each of his six seasons.
Pope might not be the most prolific pass catcher. His 24 receptions in 2011 were a career high. He packs a lot of bang for the buck with those catches, however.
Seven of Pope's nine touchdowns have come inside the red zone, and almost half of his 102 career catches have been for first downs, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly.
The 6'8", 264-pound Pope can also block, which makes him a complete tight end.
Pope won't start in Pittsburgh with Heath Miller in front of him, but he could start on a team that throws primarily to its wide receivers and needs a tight end who can block and catch the occasional pass.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR
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Jerricho Cotchery probably could have signed with another team to be a starter.
Instead, he chose to re-sign with the Steelers, who needed a possession receiver to fill the role vacated by Hines Ward.
Wide receiver is the Steelers' deepest position, so Cotchery's skill set likely won't get him any higher than No. 3 on the depth chart.
Cotchery started at least 12 games for the Jets every year between 2006 and 2009. When Santonio Holmes arrived in 2010, Cotchery started only five games but still caught 41 passes in the 14 games he played. He also made five catches each in the Jets' playoff games against the Patriots and Steelers.
Cotchery was buried in the Steelers' rotation early last season until Ward started fading away. He seized the opportunity and made all 16 of his receptions in the final nine games.
Assuming he provides that kind of production for an entire season, Cotchery has a chance to put up starter-caliber numbers in 2012.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
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There were times in 2010, Emmanuel Sanders' rookie season, when he literally looked like Hines Ward catching balls over the middle.
Because Sanders' No. 88 closely resembles Ward's No. 86, it created an optical illusion suggesting that Ward was catching the ball when in fact it was Sanders.
Sanders caught 28 passes in 2010. His career got off to a faster start than Antonio Brown's.
Unfortunately, Sanders was injured early in Super Bowl XLV, and he was missed.
Sanders sat out five games in 2011 with injuries and caught just 22 passes.
His ability as a starter assumes he can overcome the injury bug that has pestered him early in his career.
Even if the speedy Sanders does stay healthy. he likely won't be a regular starter in Pittsburgh playing behind Mike Wallace, perhaps the fastest receiver in the NFL, and Brown, the team MVP.