Pittsburgh Steelers: 8 Position Battles to Watch out for in Training Camp
The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't got much going on right now. The team is in training camp and there are no major storylines emanating such as tweeting running backs, loving quarterbacks, volatile linebackers or any other drama for that matter.
With a unique offseason and a veteran-laden team, the Steelers have very few positions to settle in camp over the coming weeks.
There are no big name players under major threat of losing their starting positions but there are important roles that need filling with players that are yet to be determined.
Baron Batch vs. Mewelde Moore
There is no doubting who is the feature back in Pittsburgh—Rashard Mendenhall—and while his backup is clear also—Isaac Redman—there is a battle going on for the third down role.
Mike Tomlin's resistance to trust rookies could face a Maurkice Pouncey like test should the early reports of Baron Batch's performances continue. Batch has apparently excelled in training camp to this point.
His blocking has been impressive throughout the week in drills before it culminated in two touchdowns during the team's goalline drill this weekend.
However Mewelde Moore has much more experience and a much bigger resume to show off. Moore has been outstanding since signing for the Steelers from the Minnesota Vikings a few years ago.
Moore has proven that he can be a full-time ball carrier but excelling as a third down back is why his roster place is assured.
Batch will need a huge preseason if he is to displace Moore—who was re-signed as a free agent before this season—but he should make the team's roster ahead of Jonathan Dwyer with a solid showing over the coming weeks.
Winner: Mewelde Moore.
Ramon Foster vs. Doug Legursky
Right now both Legursky and Foster are getting plenty of snaps with the first unit in training camp. With Chris Kemoeatu sidelined, Legursky is playing left guard in his place while Foster is on the right.
Kemoeatu will presumably return as the starting left guard leaving one place between the two. It's safe to say that both players have earned their roster spots outside of having a horrific preseason campaign. However neither player may be a starter before the season begins.
Should the Steelers re-sign Flozell Adams there is the potential that this battle will become redundant. Adams is deaf in his right ear so most likely cannot play left tackle like some have projected while Willie Colon is not suited to play that side as he is a better run blocker than pass protector.
Foster started more games at right guard last season and probably holds the advantage in this competition. However Legursky was more than capable in the Super Bowl at center last year and showed off his strength and versatility as a run blocker playing both guard and fullback during the regular season.
Legursky's strength in the running game could give him the edge over Foster but it all depends on what the team is looking to do during the coming season. I still expect Foster to remain as the starting right guard as he was consistent last season in both facets of the game even if he's not an elite player.
Winner: Ramon Foster.
Bryant McFadden vs. Curtis Brown/Keenan Lewis
Curtis Brown and Keenan Lewis have been getting reps on the outside as the team looks to upgrade its coverage from last season.
Brown is unlikely to get a legitimate chance at starting unless he really impresses, while Lewis must get out of the proverbial dog house to really challenge Bryant McFadden. A fully healthy Bryant McFadden will easily beat out the other two but he hasn't been able to stay healthy in recent times.
McFadden was fantastic during the first four games of last season before picking up minor injuries that stayed with him through the season. Realistically he will remain the team's starter, but there is an outside chance that Lewis or Brown could see more playing time should McFadden struggle again this year.
William Gay was most likely re-signed to play the nickel position which he is much better suited to play rather than on the outside.
When the team travels to Baltimore on opening day, it's a safe bet to say that Bryant McFadden will once again be the team's starter across from Ike Taylor.
Winner: Bryant McFadden.
Weslye Saunders vs. John Gilmore
Saunders is not a player I know a huge amount about, but he is apparently very talented and went undrafted because of attitude and injury. This is somewhat promising considering that the Steelers veteran locker room could at least whip him into shape as far as becoming a team player.
Gilmore, however, is a proven veteran whom the Steelers know what to expect from. Gilmore will be predominantly a blocker when he gets on the field as I expect the Steelers to move away from two tight end sets next year in favor of sing their depth at receiver.
The odds are stacked against Saunders as far as making the team, but if he can prove himself as a legitimate receiving threat, then he could win the job. This is because David Johnson already gives the team a reliable blocker, as he did behind Matt Spaeth, in his fullback/tight end role.
The Steelers tend to be more conservative with decisions such as this one and in that case I always go with the veteran.
Winner: John Gilmore.
Cameron Heyward vs. John Mitchell
Okay so this isn't exactly a position battle but it is an important battle. The Steelers have no reason to rush their first-round pick from this season in his rookie year.
Evander Hood saw very few snaps during his rookie year when the team had less depth. Hood forced his way onto the field that year with his impressive play which has led him to now being a legitimate part of the defensive line rotation.
The fact that you can't decide between Hood/Keisel/Smith as the team's obvious pair of starters (I tend to go with Hood spelling the other two) means that there will be very few chances for Heyward to get on the field. Hayward will have to force John Mitchell's hand should he see any sort of time on the field next season.
His best opportunity will be in pressure packages on passing situations. With Ra'Shon Harris and Steve McLendon also in the mix, however, Heyward will have to pick up his playbook almost instantly to get in Mitchell's plans.
Winner: The Steelers.
Stevenson Sylvester vs. James Farrior
Firstly, Stevenson Sylvester has absolutely no chance of becoming a starter this year. In fact Larry Foote will be the team's starter if Farrior's play drops off.
What Sylvester does have a chance of doing though is getting on the field in passing situations. Farrior's play in coverage has dropped off severely over the past few years as he's lost a step physically. Dick LeBeau more often than not blitzed Farrior in passing situations last year.
If Sylvester continued his development from last year over the summer and has the full grasp of his playbook then he could form a better coverage pair with Lawrence Timmons. Timmons and Sylvester would excel at closing down space or getting to the quarterback as they both are physical specimens.
A pair of linebackers that work so well in space like that would give the Steelers' pass coverage a huge boost. However I'm not taking it for granted that Sylvester is a budding star despite showing flashes in his rookie year. Most of those flashes came on special teams. Remember it took Timmons until his fourth year to become a legitimate starter.
Winner: James Farrior.
Limas Sweed vs. Arnaz Battle
The talk of Jerricho Cotchery potentially signing in Pittsburgh is a little bemusing but nonetheless exciting. The Steelers have a lot of depth at receiver but injuries to Emmanuel Sanders and Hines Ward have given some players some chances to stake a claim.
Whether Cotchery signs or not, there are very few spaces available for players on the bubble. A guy like Arnaz Battle will be relying on his special teams play in order to prevent anyone from stealing his roster spot from last year.
Battle may be in trouble, however, as the amount of linebackers the Steelers will likely carry next season may reduce the need for him. As well as having young and athletic linebackers the extra cornerbacks with the team could also allow the Steelers to keep a receiver that offers more on offense.
Players like Tyler Grisham and Limas Sweed will hope to fill that role. Sweed has been a point of contention since being drafted in the second round by the team a few season ago. He is a frustrating player but there is no doubting his talent.
What Sweed needs to overcome is his poor concentration. He is a better option than Grisham because of his ability to beat defenders and get open on a consistent basis.
Should Cotchery sign, both players could miss out on the roster. However, should Cotchery sign, Sweed essentially has no chance.
WInner: Arnaz Battle.
Crezdon Butler vs. Will Allen
With the additions of Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown to the Steelers cornerback depth chart, Crezdon Butler should be playing more safety this year.
Butler was very impressive in preseason last year on his way to earning a roster spot with the team. He has the physicality and awareness to play safety while also made some plays on special teams last year.
Will Allen was signed by the Steelers mostly for his special teams play. For the most part last season he lived up to his expectations and gave the team what they were looking for.
However Allen is behind Ryan Mundy on the depth chart at both safety positions which was proven last year when Mundy—who is a free safety—started for the injured Troy Polamalu twice. Mundy was impressive in his play but Butler's physicality offers more potential as a backup to the strong safety position.
Another strong preseason from Butler could give the Steelers a quartet of Butler, Mundy, Ryan Clark and Polamalu on the roster.
That would be a good mixture of veteran presence and youth. Butler looks to offer more than Allen overall, but he still needs to perform over the coming weeks to cement his place on the team and make Allen moot.
Winner: Crezdon Butler.
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