Bubble Watch for the Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
Normally, a lack of depth means that roster spots should be easy to come by. That is not the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers as players enter training camp.
Mike Tomlin wants his athletes to have an edge, and battling for a roster spot is a great way to achieve that. There will be a competitive environment once camp begins as players battle for spots on the team.
Here are eight players on the Steelers' roster bubble heading into training camp.
Depth Chart Position: Third-string right defensive end
Nicholas Williams didn’t play football until he was a senior in high school, and now he may be playing for one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Williams has ideal size for a 3-4 defensive end at 6’4” and 309 pounds. Besides his size, he moves well for a big man, which is why the Steelers spent a seventh-round draft choice on him.
The Steelers have some depth at defensive end with Cameron Heyward and Al Woods, but the starters—Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood—will be free agents following the season.
With only two years started in college, Williams figures to have his best football ahead of him. However, as with any defensive end in the Steelers system, the process to learn the position takes years.
He must prove that he can contribute as part of the rotation at defensive end, if he is to make the roster out of training camp. Otherwise, he will be destined for the practice squad.
Experience: Four years
Depth Chart Position: Second-string right inside linebacker
The Steelers are paper thin at inside linebacker, yet fourth-year linebacker Stevenson Sylvester is not a lock for the position.
He showed a lot of promise as a rookie, particularly on special teams where he finished the season with 14 tackles and a forced fumble. Since then, his production has gone down.
Despite lining up at inside linebacker for his first three training camps, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly reported that Sylvester was moved to the outside.
Whether it is inside or outside, Sylvester has one last opportunity to show that he deserves a spot on the roster.
Experience: Three years
Depth Chart Position: Second-string left outside linebacker
The drafting of Jarvis Jones moved Chris Carter further down the depth chart.
He had an opportunity coming out of camp to start the first three games of the season and was virtually invisible with two solo tackles and four assists.
The speed-rusher was unable to get to the quarterback once and did not stand out on special teams either. A linebacker that far down on the depth chart who can’t play special teams is a long shot to make the team.
Experience: Four years
Depth Chart Position: Starting running back
Jonathan Dwyer led the Steelers with 623 rushing yards last season, yet he may find himself on the chopping block.
Pittsburgh spent a second-round selection on Le’Veon Bell, and he will be the starting running back sometime in the near future. Where does that leave Dwyer?
The job as a third-down back should come down to LaRod Stephens-Howling and Baron Batch, while Isaac Redman can fill the role as a short-yardage back.
At this point, the Steelers have to decide if they want to pay both Dwyer and Redman $1.3 million as backups.
Dwyer offers value as a potential starter and can easily carry the ball 15 to 20 times per game if necessary. At only 23 years old, he has a bright future ahead of him.
Looking only at talent, Dwyer should make the final roster. But when it comes to distributing the carries and salary cap implications, he may be on the outside looking in.
Experience: Three years
Depth Chart Position: Fifth-string running back
Baron Batch is entering his third year in the league, but it in reality it is only his second, considering he tore his ACL as a rookie.
He became a fan favorite during his rookie season when he had one nice block on James Harrison during the backs-on-backers drill.
As far as production goes, he only had 49 yards on 25 carries and four reception for 31 yards last season. He will be in direct competition with the versatile LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Not only can Stephens-Howling step in as a third-down back, but he can play on first and second down as well as contribute in the return game.
Batch needs to have the best camp of his career and shine as the third-down back to make the roster. The odds are not in his favor.
Experience: Five years
Depth Chart Position: Starting fullback
David Johnson missed last season with a torn ACL and is looking to bounce back. He has played in 47 games—including 24 starts—with the Steelers and has 18 receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown.
Though he is listed by Ourlads as the starting fullback, that job will go to Will Johnson. Instead, he will compete for a backup tight end spot.
The Steelers will be thin at tight end early while Heath Miller recovers from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last season.
Primarily a blocker, Johnson would fit in nicely as the third-string tight end and backup fullback until Miller is ready to return. He must prove that he is healthy if he wants to stick.
Experience: Eight years
Depth Chart Position: Second-string right offensive tackle
Guy Whimper was signed to provide the Steelers with veteran depth at tackle. He has 22 starts and 67 games played in his career.
In recent years, Whimper has not been very good. In his only season as the primary starter, he allowed 14 sacks in 15 starts. His poor play was highlighted by a December 2011 column by J.J. Cooper for Football Outsiders.
Whimper will compete with Joe Long, Mike Golic Jr. and Mike Farrell for a backup spot. It may come down to who is the best of the worst.
Experience: 12 years
Depth Chart Position: Third-string left wide receiver
In a limited role last year, Burress caught three passes in seven targets for 42 yards and a score. He also drew a pass interference penalty.
That is not a lot of production for the soon to be 36-year-old receiver, but he had a lot of talent ahead of him. Entering camp, he will be behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and could soon be passed by rookie Markus Wheaton.
Whether he is fourth or fifth on the depth chart by the time the season begins, Burress’ roster spot should be in question.
Any receivers that deep on the depth chart need to play special teams if they are going to dress on game days. Burress does not do that, which means he could lose his spot to rookie Justin Brown or another young receiver.