Pittsburgh Steelers: Setting the Starting Odds for Every Position Undecided
The Pittsburgh Steelers have several starting jobs undecided heading into the preseason this year. Training camp and the four warm-up games will help decide some of those battles, but the one sure thing so far is that the competition is fierce.
Here's a look at the odds on each player's chances of claiming one of those hallowed starting positions for the Black and Gold in 2012.
Starting Wide Receiver
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Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace: 20%
The odds for Wallace go up considerably if he comes into camp. In fact, if he shows up, this probably isn't even a contest anymore and the spotlight shifts to the slot receiver job. The problem is that Wallace isn't in camp and hasn't shown any signs of dismounting his high horse and admitting he isn't worth $100 million.
The odds will go down further the longer Wallace stays out. Mike Tomlin won't just hand him his job back with no knowledge and experience in a new offensive system. At this point, he hurts himself each day he's at home.
Emmanuel Sanders: 42%
Sanders has a lot to prove in 2012. He entered last year with an opportunity to be the starter opposite Wallace, but injuries forced him down and Antonio Brown overtook him. Now he has a chance to once again claim a starting job.
Sanders is a good receiver when he's on the field and has the knowledge and agility to play at any of the wide receiver spots. He runs a complete route tree as well, something Brown also can do on this team. If he shows he's healthy he should be the other starter.
Jerricho Cotchery: 38%
I'm giving Cotchery slightly less odds because he's got more starting experience than Sanders, but less versatility and talent overall. He's more of a possession receiver and he might be a better fit in the slot if Wallace continues his holdout.
Cotchery is going to be a big red zone target once again, but I don't see him having the same impact between the 20's. That's an area where Sanders' speed will serve him well. Cotchery is better over the middle and could compliment Heath Miller there as the third guy.
Starting Inside Linebacker
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Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence
Larry Foote: 55%
This is a bit of a surprise. Foote has been a backup since returning to Pittsburgh before the 2010 season. He showed up this year, however, ready and willing to compete with much younger players for the starting job he used to hold.
So far, Foote has upstaged the competition. That's a good sign for a team that is struggling to replace legendary James Farrior. The youngsters don't measure up yet. This is a complete reversal from where we thought we'd be six months ago.
Stevenson Sylvester: 20%
The player many thought would be leading this competition seems to have fallen off the pace badly. The problem for Sylvester seems to be his consistency. He hasn't shown the tenacity of Foote either, something needed on the inside of a mean defensive front.
Sylvester might derive some motivation from the fact that this is likely his final chance. The Steelers nearly drafted Dont'a Hightower in the draft. That signals that they remain unimpressed by Sylvester's potential to start. It's now or never.
Sean Spence: 25%
I would place the rookie's odds as slightly better than Sylvester because of the extra dimension that Spence is likely to bring to the game. If anyone is to stop Foote, it probably will be Spence. He is a special player in the making.
Spence's best attribute is that he can attack from virtually anywhere the same way Troy Polamalu does. He's ferocious and fast. He's a sure hitter as well. These are things Larry Foote may not be able to emulate over a full season. I think that, even if he doesn't start, we're going to see a significant amount of Spence in 2012.
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Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown
Keenan Lewis: 65%
Lewis came into the offseason program predicting a Pro Bowl year for himself. The Steelers haven't sent a corner to the annual contest in over a decade now despite some great work by Ike Taylor over the years. Lewis is out to change that.
Lewis brings a big play dimension to the table. Mike Tomlin loves splash plays and the secondary needs more of them in 2012. Lewis isn't as good as Taylor in coverage, but he will hit and he will keep up with fast receivers. The question is whether or not he's better than a nickel player. So far, he looks like a special player ready to break out.
Cortez Allen: 15%
Allen had a decent rookie campaign and flashed some surprisingly good skills before an injury shelved him for awhile. Whether or not that translates to a starting job remains to be seen. I still feel like Allen isn't quite set up for that kind of work and that he's better as a dime guy or in the nickel.
Allen is facing stiff competition for the nickel job if he loses out on the starting job. He doesn't have a lot of big play potential and his best attribute seems to be an above average ability to cover receivers in the middle. I'm not sure he can stay with guys like Torrey Smith or A.J. Green.
Curtis Brown: 20%
Brown made a ton of big plays at Texas during his collegiate career, but he hasn't had an opportunity yet to flash that in the NFL. He was a top special teams contributor last season, a typically good start for a rookie corner.
Now he's competing to get some defensive snaps or perhaps the starting gig. I'd place him ahead of Allen but still far behind Lewis. He doesn't have the experience to jump right in and start unless he has a phenomenal preseason. I think he'll get some time spelling Lewis and some work in the nickel.
Starting Running Back
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Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch
Isaac Redman: 90%
This shouldn't really be much of a competition given Redman's experience and his work so far in his short career. Nothing has been made official yet, however, and Mike Tomlin won't do anything but stoke the fires of competition.
Redman is the team's most complete runner with Rashard Mendenhall on the shelf. He can catch, run or gain tough yards. It remains to be seen just how much of the load he will carry this season, but the odds are he's going to be on the field a lot.
Baron Batch: 5%
Batch is the versatile back who will likely replace Mewelde Moore this year. He is the team's best receiver out of the backfield and he has some of the best speed on the team (no one is catching Chris Rainey, however).
I think Batch will slot in nicely as the third down back. He doesn't have the bulk for short yardage, but he can be that extra receiver Ben Roethlisberger likes to have when things get tight. That extra dimension has always been important and is a part of Todd Haley's system.
Jonathan Dwyer: 5%
I really like Dwyer and I think the guy has a chance to steal some carries from Redman. If the Steelers go with more of a tandem look as a starter, Dwyer will likely be on the other end of it until Mendenhall is back.
Dwyer can force a tandem if he has a big preseason. The team will want to spell Redman anyway given that he's never carried that heavy of a load before. This is a big year for Dwyer, who has struggled to remain relevant for Pittsburgh because of the emergence of Redman.
Starting Left Tackle
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Mike Adams, Max Starks, Marcus Gilbert
Mike Adams: 80%
As long as Adams is as advertised, I think he will be the starting left tackle in Pittsburgh. He's young, athletic and technically sound. He needs a little polishing as any rookie will, but he has a chance to be a special player and to help solidify the Pittsburgh line.
The only trick with Adams is that he's a rookie and rookies don't usually get starting jobs at the most important position along the offensive line. In this case, however, Adams is much better than most people outside of Pittsburgh and alma mater Ohio State probably believe.
Max Starks: 15%
Anyone reading into the team's bringing back of it's former left tackle is probably a little bit off base. Starks is a quality depth option, but he's still recovering from a late-season injury and isn't someone who seems likely to be ready for the start of the year.
I won't write him off because he's been too solid and he has a good relationship with the team and their offensive personnel, but I think this move was solely to improve depth. The Steelers suffered heavily last season on the injury front and having a former starter behind a rookie is going to be valuable.
Marcus Gilbert: 5%
Why so low? It's simple. This is low because Gilbert is going to be the team's starting right tackle unless something completely shocking happens in camp. He's in this competition simply because he's the team's best option besides Adams at left tackle.
Gilbert should be even better in his second season and he could play at a Pro Bowl level as long as he continues to progress. He's best suited for the right side and should continue to help the team's run game with good blocking along the edge.
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Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler
Drew Butler: 65%
Undrafted rookies face an uphill battle to make NFL rosters, but the Steelers are usually willing to give everyone a chance. Mike Tomlin always takes the best 53 players to Heinz Field when the season begins for real and he doesn't care if his choices seem questionable to anyone.
Butler is a strong-legged, accurate punter who's incredibly consistent. I think he has a chance to be very successful in the NFL and his ability to place kicks will be invaluable to a team that likes to intimidate by using field position mismatches.
Jeremy Kapinos: 35%
The odds for Kapinos, the incumbent punter, have gone down with an early camp injury. It's nothing major, but the Steelers do not want to play punter roulette yet again. They let go Daniel Sepulveda for that reason and won't be too happy if Kapinos can't stay healthy.
Other than that injury, this competition is almost a dead heat. You can give Kapinos some marks for experience and his body of work with Pittsburgh. You can give Butler some for slightly better strength and accuracy. So far, it's a toss up unless Kapinos' injury lingers. Then it stays unbalanced.