Now that the NFL draft is in the rear-view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers will put their offseason focus on setting the roster. Several key positions are up for grabs due to the departure of former starters.
Latrobe will be the host to its share of heated roster battles this training camp. When the smoke clears, who will be the last man standing?
Both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum are long shots made good.
Foster came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2009. During his time in Pittsburgh, he filled in for Chris Kemoeatu and kept David DeCastro's seat warm until the rookie recovered from injury. But Foster never had time to rest, as he also started in place of the oft-injured Willie Colon.
Although Kemoeatu and Colon are gone, Foster can't become complacement because Kelvin Beachum is tapping on his shoulder.
The Steelers drafted Beachum in the seventh round in 2012. He started five games last year at right tackle due to injuries to Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams and played admirably. So much so, that the Steelers are giving him an opportunity to compete with Foster for the vacated guard position.
Winner: Foster. He has the experience at the position. It's just enough to get him the nod.
With the departure of Keenan Lewis to the New Orleans Saints, the Steelers have an open starting corner position opposite Ike Taylor.
Cortez Allen played well enough at the third cornerback spot last season for the Steelers to let Lewis go. He appears to be the heir apparent.
William Gay came back to Pittsburgh in the offseason to kick off his reunion tour. While mainly brought in to provide veteran experience and depth, he will compete with Allen for the starting position
Winner: Cortez Allen. There's a reason the Arizona Cardinals didn't keep Gay.
The Steelers' three-headed hydra running back situation may be down to two by training camp. The Steelers are looking to trade Jonathan Dwyer, but have yet to find any takers. As such, Dwyer is still on the team, so he is part of the equation.
Both he and Isaac Redman showed spurts last season, but failed to convince the organization that either of them are worthy of the starting job.
Enter La'Veon Bell. Drafted this year in the second round, Bell brings versatility to a rather one-sided looking backfield.
Winner: Bell. If he can't beat out Redman and Dwyer, the Steelers might need to give Walter Abercrombie a call.
Emmanuel Sanders created a little drama this offseason by signing an offer sheet from the New England Patriots. The Steelers matched, but the signing could be a harbinger of things to come if Sanders becomes a free agent in 2014.
Although Sanders is the presumptive starter, he might not stay there. The Steelers drafted Markus Wheaton not only to add depth, but also to cushion the blow should Sanders leave.
And that's where it gets interesting. If Wheaton develops faster than expected, the Steelers may opt to give him the starting job, especially if they believe that Sanders desires greener pastures like his good buddy Mike Wallace.
Winner: Sanders. This just feels like Wallace 2.0.
Poor Jason Worilds. The cards don't seem to be fall in his favor.
Last year, he had an opportunity to start in place of the injured James Harrison, but couldn't due to his own wrist injury. He eventually did start three games last season, registering 18 tackles and five sacks.
Now, Harrison is gone and the Steelers draft the 2012 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Jones in the first round this year. If Worilds can't beat out Jones, he may be gone in 2014.
On the other hand, if Worilds plays well, it could set up an interesting scenario with Jones and LaMarr Woodley, particularly if Woodley chooses Doritos over P90X.
Winner: Worilds. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's system is complicated and it's unusual for a rookie to pick it up quickly.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Keith Butler see differently on the condition of Sean Spence's knee. Butler believes that Spence's return to football would be "miraculous." However, Tomlin adamantly disagrees. ESPN quoted Tomlin:
I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs. I think he’s going to have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions. Do with it what you wish.
This is one battle that Steelers fans are unanimously one-sided whose opinion they are rooting for. Spence had a promising career horrifically derailed by a devastating knee injury. If he can make it back to anything close to full strength, the Steelers' concerns at inside linebacker will be solved for several years.
Winner: Tomlin. We hope.