Three games down and one to go as the Pittsburgh Steelers enter their final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. It is a game that may not be important for most of the starters, but one that is still very meaningful those still competing for a job.
Young players will have their opportunity to shine one more time as they attempt to secure a roster spot while those still competing in position battles get to make a final push for a place on the depth chart.
Many of the camp battles have already been decided with Mike Adams starting at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, while Landry Jones has locked up the role as third-string quarterback.
One of the key position battles this summer was at running back, but it was never much of a competition due to injuries to Isaac Redman and Le’Veon Bell. But the coaches apparently saw enough from them during practice to make a decision on who will start at running back.
According to Dale Lolley, Redman will be the starter until Bell is ready to return.
But that leaves several areas of the team still open for battle. Here is a look at the final position battles as the preseason comes to a close.
Note: All stats in this article are via ESPN.com.
1. Starting Right Outside Linebacker
Candidates: Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones
The battle at right outside linebacker has become quite interesting as the preseason has progressed. While Dick LeBeau does not start rookies, he needs to at least be thinking about starting Jarvis Jones over Jason Worilds.
Worilds has looked like his typical self this preseason—solid, but unspectacular.
He has not stood out in any area except for two personal foul penalties that resulted in Mike Tomlin removing him from the game. But he does have one strong advantage over Jones at this point, and that is his knowledge of the defense.
But does the knowledge matter if you can’t make plays on a consistent basis? That is something Jones has done.
Though he has yet to sack the quarterback, Jones has improved his pass rush and has had a nose for the ball with a fumble recovery, forced fumble and an interception, which was called back due to a penalty.
Jones may not start at right outside linebacker, but the coaches should have a plan in place to get him on the field often. That will be a step forward for the defense.
Candidates: Drew Butler, Brian Moorman
Brian Moorman was brought in as a challenger to Drew Butler, and he put up a good fight, but it was not enough.
While Moorman has the edge on hang time, Butler has been the better punter. He has had a better average in each game and has been the more consistent option.
Butler averaged 47.3 yards on 12 punts this preseason to 40.5 yards on eight punts for Moorman.
Besides his low average, Moorman had a long punt of 59 yards in the preseason opener, but only longs of 41 and 40 yards in the next two games, respectively. That is not good enough for a starting punter. By comparison, Butler has had long punts of 55, 54 and 53 yards in each of the games.
Butler has outperformed Moorman and should be named the starting punter. Any other decision would be very surprising.
3. Backup Wide Receiver
Candidates: Derek Moye, Justin Brown
You know the preseason is nearing an end when the battle for the fifth receiver spot becomes one of the more intriguing competitions.
A rather talented group of young receivers that began camp has been whittled down to Derek Moye and Justin Brown.
Brown had a strong training camp, but Moye has come on as of late with six receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown over his past two games.
Meanwhile, Brown had a good start to the preseason with four receptions in his first game, but he has only had one reception since. That is not a good sign.
While Moye is showing that he can be a better option at receiver, Brown offers more on special teams—and that could be the deciding factor.
In reality, a fifth receiver will rarely see the field in offensive formations. Any ball that goes his way is one that does not go to Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery or Markus Wheaton. This is why special teams play will be considered.
Each player would offer the Steelers a big receiving option, but they are at least a year away from making any significant contributions. But as the season approaches, Moye is trending up and has the edge as the better pure receiver. If the Steelers are set with special teams players, Moye will earn the final spot over Brown.
Backup Offensive Line
Kelvin Beachum has the top backup job locked up, and John Malecki is a good bet for the second spot. He is a versatile lineman with the ability to play center and guard.
There are a couple of options for the final spot, including Guy Whimper and Joe Long. Whimper was moved inside to guard while Long was promoted to second-team right tackle. Long has a chance to get better while Whimper has a history of struggling in pass protection.
The choice should be easy, and the Steelers should go with Long.
Backup Defensive Line
There has been a lot to like with the backup defensive linemen.
Cameron Heyward is guaranteed a spot, and Al Woods has had a strong preseason. A surprise name has been Brian Arnfelt. He has played some excellent football and has shown enough to make the final roster.
With the possibility of keeping five defensive ends, and with Woods being able to play end and nose tackle, the Steelers may decide to keep either Hebron Fangupo or Alameda Ta’amu. Ta'amu has the higher upside and should get one more opportunity to prove himself.
Alan Baxter has two sacks and will have to shine one more time to make the roster. Outside of the starters, Jarvis Jones is a lock and Chris Carter is a good bet to make it as well. Not only does Baxter need to impact on defense, but also on special teams. Behind the starting inside linebackers, Marshall McFadden appears to be the top backup, and Kion Wilson played on the first-team special teams unit last week.
If the Steelers keep five, I give the edge to Vince Williams over Brian Rolle because of his potential .
The top four cornerbacks should be set with Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay and Curtis Brown. That leaves at least one more spot, and this should go to Terry Hawthorne. Though he has been hampered with injuries, he has a higher upside than any of the other backups. Josh Victorian has a chance, but he is a player who is always in position but never makes the play.
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