5 Pittsburgh Steelers Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IJune 9, 2014

5 Pittsburgh Steelers Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have put a wrap on their OTA  and can now turn their attention toward preparing for training camp. As is the norm with a franchise like the Steelers, things have been fairly quiet. Pittsburgh has never been a team to steal a lot of OTA headlines.

    Nevertheless, there have been some athletes who have made some headlines during OTAs. And it’s a good thing, too. This team desperately needs some new energy and excitement about this roster. The criticism of this team over the past two seasons has been that they are too old and too slow. Well, good news, because the bulk of these athletes are young and uber-athletic.

    Let’s take a look at five players who are creating some real excitement at Steelers workouts. All of these players have a shot to start this season and be real difference-makers.

Ryan Shazier, Linebacker

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Steelers front office made getting more explosive on defense a top priority in the draft. Pittsburgh used their first-round pick to draft former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier was primarily an outside linebacker in college, but he has worked inside almost exclusively so far in Pittsburgh.

    Shazier’s athletic ability is as good as any defensive player in this draft. His success is going to be dependent on how quickly he can acclimate himself with a new defensive scheme. The coaches have full confidence in Shazier judging by this tweet from Scout.com’s James Wexell:

    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

    However, don’t assume Shazier will be limited as an inside linebacker. According to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Mark Kaboly, the Steelers are going to move Shazier all over to take advantage of that speed. 

    Steelers are going to use Ryan Shazier in sub packages to rush from the outside. Not exclusively, but there will be a package for that.

    — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) June 5, 2014

    If the Steelers are able to get Shazier up to speed in time to be able to move him around, things are going to get very interesting for this team. However, how good can he be? Well, according to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, very good: 

    My WAY too early pick for def rookie of the year: Jadeveon Clowney. I think he'll notch 12+ sacks. Ryan Shazier would be my 2nd choice.

    — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 31, 2014

    I know that linebacker Vince Williams was a nice surprise last season filling in for Larry Foote. However, the reality is this defense is much better with Shazier on the field instead of him.

Markus Wheaton, Wide Receiver

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Are Steelers fans finally going to see wide receiver Markus Wheaton unleashed this year? It certainly seems that way. The starting spot opposite of Antonio Brown is up for grabs, and Wheaton has to be the early leader. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette predicts Wheaton will win the job.

    And as of now, Wheaton is entrenched as the starter and putting sure hands and elite speed to good use. Fox Sports Radio host David Todd was on Bleacher Report’s Team Stream Now, and he confirmed Wheaton is taking those first-team reps.

    Even with the addition of players like Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant at wide receiver, this is great news. Wheaton has the potential to be a special player in this offense. Paired up with Brown, they could be the best combo of speed and quickness in the league. Need reminding how fast Wheaton is? Let’s go to the archive courtesy of the Steelers Depot Twitter account:

    VIDEO: #Steelers WR Markus Wheaton beats De'Anthony Thomas 100M Dash: http://t.co/TKFFfUriDj

    — Steelers Depot (@Steelers depot) April 30, 2013

Cam Thomas, Defensive Tackle

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    One thing the Steelers understood going into this offseason is if they wanted to win, they had to get bigger and stronger at the point of attack. That means throwing some beef into the mix on the defensive line. At 6’4” and 330 pounds, Cam Thomas is some serious beef. Just ask James Wexell of Scout.com. 

    Cam Thomas is a grown ass man. He should help Shazier in run game. #steelers

    — James C Wexell (@jimwexell) May 27, 2014

    So far this offseason, Thomas has done a great job working his way into the flow on defense as both a defensive end and nose tackle. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Mark Kaboly had a chance to interview Thomas, and you can see that Thomas is ready to contribute wherever he can. According to teammate Cameron Heyward, things are going well.

    He's learned a lot, but it is an ongoing process for him, defensive end Cameron Heyward said. It's different terminology, different scheme but he is picking it up. You constantly see him getting better, and that's all you can ask.

    There’s little doubt where Thomas can help this team if he can become the Casey Hampton-sequel nose tackle that anchored some tremendous defenses in the past. Back in May, per Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, head coach Mike Tomlin felt good about his prospects.

    Mike Tomlin: Cam Thomas is nose capable, end capable. We'll try to find the strongest combination. #Steelers

    — Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) May 5, 2014

Sean Spence, Linebacker

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The return of linebacker Sean Spence has been a welcome sight at Steelers OTAs. Everyone has been waiting for two seasons for the athletic young linebacker to make his debut. Early reports out of OTAs are that Spence appears to finally be healthy and ready to roll. Here are a couple of tweets from Scout.com’s James Wexell that are more than promising.

    @SteelCurtainRis: So @jimwexell, if Spence isn't limited by the injury, could he legitimately challenge for time in #Steelers defense?” Yes

    — James C Wexell (@jimwexell) May 29, 2014

    .@StevenTanner1 For Spence, looks like nothing ever happened. The game-day burst will be the all-important but so far so good.

    — James C Wexell (@jimwexell) May 29, 2014

    These sorts of reports are tremendous. You can never have enough great athletes at linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Obviously, with the addition of Ryan Shazier, it complicates things on the inside, but that is a great problem to have. Getting Spence back means guys like Shazier and Lawrence Timmons can rotate outside as pass-rushing linebackers, as well as facilitate more 4-3 looks.

    According to Mark Kaboly, Spence has been a full participant at the Steelers’ OTAs. However, Spence understands nothing is certain until contact comes, and that is soon.

    It is still a process, Spence said. This is just step one of coming out and competing and reacting off of other guys instead of cones. When I get to Latrobe, I will be able to test it even more there. 

Antwon Blake, Cornerback

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Of all of the players from last year’s team, the one who seems to be drawing the greatest amount of praise is cornerback Antwon Blake. Who is Blake, you ask? I’ll let Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter explain in these two tweets: 

    People ripping #Steelers for passing on CBs in draft are missing Antwon Blake. Team likes him a lot. Special teams star last season.

    — Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) May 13, 2014

    I might add that Antwon Blake ran a 4.32 40 at his Pro Day in college with a 39-inch vertical. Yes, 5-9. But fast and explosive

    — Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) May 13, 2014

    Granted, Blake’s experience at cornerback is limited, but things sound promising. Blake has even drawn the praise of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake.

    I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have and we have more numbers there than people realize, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. We may have great players in the building already; they just haven't had the chance to show us that they are great.

    Comments like this are particularly encouraging when you consider the Steelers struggled greatly at cornerback in 2013. If a player like Blake can step up enough to be productive as a nickel or dime cornerback, it will go a long way toward fixing this defense. It’s time for Blake to throw on his game face and be more than a special teams star.

    Antwon Blake NFL player Jacksonville Jaguars shoot by http://t.co/YizVyHXF http://t.co/ojH0Tvg5 #تغذية_بصرية ... pic.twitter.com/BW7bztOU

    — Ibrahim Alghamdi (@iPhotographer) February 20, 2013