Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: Week 1 Stock Report
Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to get a full week of training camp in, some things are becoming apparent. It is evident that some of these players understand how important it is to play well, and they have elevated their games.
Unfortunately, some players, whether it is due to injury or poor play, have done nothing to help their case for making the final 53-man roster. Fortunately, after a week of drills there has been far more good news than bad. Let's take a look at some players whose stock is on the rise,and some others whose stock is taking an early tumble.
It is an unfortunate fact that every player can't be healthy and get the same shot to make this team as everyone else. However, that has not always been the case. These guys must take full advantage of their opportunities, and they will have to acknowledge that if they can't get on the field, their odds of making the team will drop significantly.
Stock Up: Vince Williams, LB
If you are linebacker Vince Williams, you are playing this season with a chip on your shoulder. After starting 11 games in 2013 in place of Larry Foote, the Steelers promptly spent their first-round pick on his replacement.
Now, before we go too far with this diatribe, understand that Williams was more of a serviceable player than anything else last season. In fact, the move to draft linebacker Ryan Shazier was part of much bigger picture than the fact that Williams didn’t play well enough.
It seems that one week into training camp, Williams has taken being replaced as a personal affront and really amped up the intensity. So much so, that during last Friday night's practice, Williams got into a fight with running back Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Steelers writer Mark Kaboly sent out this tweet about the scrum.
You just have to love that Williams is playing so hard and with such intensity. Unfortunately, with Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and Sean Spence comprising the rest of the top inside linebackers, Williams’ shot at cracking the starting lineup will once again depend on an injury.
Stock Down: Mike Adams, T
It’s clear that the competitions for the backup spots along the offensive line are tight. While the starting five is locked in, the other four players the Steelers will keep are still up in the air.
However, one player who should not be in that discussion is offensive tackle Mike Adams. The trend across Twitter about Adams’ play has been bad. Adams has been failing miserably in pass-blocking drills and is quickly working his way right out of a roster spot.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might have summed up Adams’ training camp best with this tweet. If this team is determined to incorporate more outside zone into the run game, a heavy-footed, ham-handed tackle like Adams doesn’t belong.
Stock Up: Martavis Bryant, WR
Don’t always believe what you read. Pittsburgh published its first depth chart of the season, and it had more than a little misinformation in it.
The main issue being the placement of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant somewhere in the nether regions of the wide receiver depth chart. This is likely posturing by head coach Mike Tomlin, designed to keep the young wide receiver humble and driven.
However, his play on the field feels more like a starter. Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette echoes the sentiment of mostly everyone who has watched any of the first week of practices.
Bryant seems like the player who can help improve Pittsburgh’s woeful 52.83 red-zone touchdown percentage, per Team Rankings. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves having a big target to look for in the end zone. As long as he keeps hauling in big catches, there will be targets to be had.
Stock Down: Steve McLendon
As exciting as all the changes on defense have been, it’s been one non-change that is most troubling. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon appears to be returning to his role as the starting nose tackle. This is troubling because, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McLendon only played 355 snaps in 14 games.
That works out to only 23.4 snaps per game. I’m not even sure you can even count him as a starter with numbers that low. McLendon was forced off the field in sub-packages because he just couldn’t anchor the middle like a nose tackle is supposed to.
Now, a week into training camp, guys such as Cameron Heyward, Cam Thomas and rookie Stephon Tuitt are making plays all over the field along the defensive line. McLendon, on the other hand, has been noticeably absent from reports, possibly due in part to injury, as Jim Wexell of Scout.com speculated.
As defensive line coach John Mitchell said in Alan Robinson’s blog on TribLive.com, it is all about getting the best three out there.
For me, the best three are Heyward and Tuitt at the ends and Thomas at the nose. Let McLendon rotate in, but don’t count on him to anchor the middle on run downs. He just can’t hold up physically.
Stock Up: Stephon Tuitt, DE
Prior to the 2014 NFL draft, defensive end Stephon Tuitt was a tough guy to forecast. On paper, his talent was first-round worthy. Tuitt is as athletic a 303-pound man as you will see. Nevertheless, his 2013 college film wasn’t quite up to that level.
However, as a second-round pick, Tuitt was a steal, and so far in training camp, he’s been answering the bell. This includes working with the first team at defensive end, while Steve McLendon was out.
Here’s a nice video of Tuitt from Steelers.com where he talks about how it was taking those first-team reps. He sounds like a young man who knows his future is as a starter.
Tuitt can do special things at his size. He’s got elite length and can really move. My own observation of Tuitt is that he’s in much better shape now than he was in the spring. He looked a little soft then, but he appears to have firmed up through the middle and looks very fit at 6’5”.
Stock Down: Brice McCain, CB
When the Steelers went out and signed Brice McCain, it was to help bolster an aging and struggling secondary. Unfortunately, everything on the McCain front has been silent since then. It wasn’t like he was a great player when he came over from the Houston Texans, but I expected more.
The Steelers are going to be looking at a first round of cuts in the coming weeks and in that drop to 75. McCain is dangerously close to being out of work early. The Steelers have their key players in place with Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay and Antwon Blake at the top of the depth chart.
This means if the Steelers opt to keep only five cornerbacks, McCain is a serious long shot to make this team. With things so wide-open, McCain had a chance to stand out, but so far it has been rather the opposite situation.
Stock Up: Arthur Moats, LB
Depth at outside linebacker was a concern going into the offseason, and to be blunt, the addition of linebacker Arthur Moats didn’t put my mind at ease about it. Moats came from a 4-3 defense where he moved between the inside and outside linebacker spots.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seems to suggest in a recent tweet that Moats has the primary reserve outside linebacker spot all but locked down. This has become a quick and impressive transition. You don’t often hear about pure 4-3 outside linebackers making the switch to the pass-rushing linebacker role a 3-4 demands.
How much will this matter during the season? If history holds true, it will matter a great deal. Pittsburgh isn’t shy about rotating in a third outside linebacker to keep fresh legs rushing the passer. Look for Moats to put together a respectable year if he can keep up the momentum he’s building in training camp.
Stock Down: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
The Steelers have some serious players at wide receiver. I know Pittsburgh is going to do their very best to get the running game clicking on all cylinders, but you’ve got to think with all that speed on the outside, the passing game is going to be humming too.
One guy who isn’t making any inroads to be a part of that is Darrius Heyward-Bey. So far, Heyward-Bey’s training camp has been either spending time with the back of the depth chart or on the sidelines with a concussion, per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The odds weren’t great for Heyward-Bey at the start of the offseason, but nothing seems to be going his way from the jump. Because he is a veteran he’ll likely stick around through the first cuts, but he’s done himself no favors in the first week.