Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs
The first round of OTAs for the Pittsburgh Steelers is in the books. The coaches have had their first shot to get a close look at the entire (almost) roster and begin their evaluation process.
Evaluation involves not only who starts but also who stays. As of now, the Steelers probably have around 30 players whom they know are going to make the team. That means the 60-plus players who are still on the roster are working for about 20 roster spots.
Pittsburgh’s first round of OTAs came and went like a lamb. There are no injuries to report and, to be honest, very little in terms of activity. This is a good thing in one sense. This team has prided itself on its stability. Taking the glass-is-half-full approach, we will say that no news is good news.
Once the next round of OTAs and training camp hit, some players are certainly going to emerge, while others fall back. However, for now, here are the five guys from this first round of workouts who improved their positions going forward.
Sean Spence, Linebacker
It was great seeing images and hearing reports about linebacker Sean Spence making plays on the field. This is his third season with the Steelers, but it looks to be his first where he might have an impact on the defense.
He has spent the entirety of his first two seasons in some phase of injury rehab. When the Steelers spent a third-round pick on him back in 2012, the plan was for him to pair up on the inside with Lawrence Timmons as a dynamic duo at linebacker.
Pittsburgh was hopeful Spence would be back but hedged its bets by selecting linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Shazier and Spence are very similar in many aspects to their game.
With Shazier in the mix, what does that mean for a healthy Spence?
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shared this tweet of Spence going through drills:
Sean Spence going through a drill http://t.co/ZTHlu68Hp6— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) May 29, 2014
Looking at this, it seems as if Spence is ready to roll. Obviously, contact and game speed will dictate this, but things are encouraging.
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back
One thing the Steelers needed to focus on was loading up the running back depth chart behind starter Le'Veon Bell. As great as he is, his workload must be managed. This means more than just putting filler behind him.
Enter the blunt instrument that is LeGarrette Blount. The 250-pound hammer has shown he can be a feature back in the league. However, in an article by NFL.com’s Kevin Patra, Blount said he is ready to accept his role as a complementary back to Bell.
This is great news, not only because Blount is an impressive back but also because this unit needs to build chemistry. With rookie Dri Archer as the third back and more of a change-of-pace player, it’s going to be a heavy dose of Bell and Blount on opposing defenses.
The more motivated Blount is, the more carries he will get. It’s not at all out of the question to see him get eight or nine touches per game. That might not seem like much, but those carries could extend the career of Bell and give an element to the running game this team hasn’t seen since Jerome Bettis.
Ryan Shazier, Linebacker
The news that no one should be shocked about coming out of OTAs is that rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is running with the first-team defense at inside linebacker. James Wexell of Scout.com first tweeted the report:
Shazier lined up as first team Mack today, with Cam Thomas at LDE and Markus Wheaton opposite Antonio Brown at WR.— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) May 27, 2014
The only player on this roster who can legitimately push Shazier for reps at this point might be Sean Spence. Clearly, if the coaches thought Vince Williams could do it, Shazier would have never been drafted in the first place.
Nevertheless, it is always good to hear that young players are being injected into the starting lineup early. The quicker this team gets younger and more athletic, the better. Shazier has the speed and dynamic playmaking ability that the defense was sorely lacking in 2013.
Maurkice Pouncey, Center
It was great news to hear that Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey seemed to be going full speed at OTAs. According to Scott Brown of ESPN.com, Pouncey reported to having no problems at all with his surgically repaired knee.
Even with how well Cody Wallace played last season, this line is much better with Pouncey at his best and ready to roll. This is a sentiment that was echoed by Pouncey, via the Steelers official Twitter account:
What teams always have to be cautious about in situations like this one are setbacks. Once the contact goes live and unscripted, how Pouncey is able to go without any re-injury will be key. If this team is serious about getting back to running the football, it must have him back on the field.
Heath Miller, Tight End
Last season tight end Heath Miller did his best coming back from injury to help this offense. However, it was pretty clear that at no point was he 100 percent. The early word is that is going to be different in 2014.
ESPN.com’s Scott Brown wrote about expectations for Miller in 2014 from the player as well as the fans.
I should be able to put more preparation in, should be able to work like I’m used to working,” Miller said Thursday following the Steelers’ final OTA of the week. “Last year was about trying to find a new normal for myself and I’m a creature of habit, so that wasn’t easy for me. I’m fully confident by the time the season rolls around I’m going to be feeling much better than the start of last year just from a confidence perspective.
Translation: A more confident Miller leads to a more confident Ben Roethlisberger. And that means a big boost in production on offense. Miller doesn’t get the respect he deserves across the league because he doesn’t put up huge numbers. However, make no mistake: His ability to impact the passing and rushing game is not missed by the Steelers faithful.
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