Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp 2011: Which Players are Struggling Most?
Teams are now through a full week of training camp and, except for the players still joining new squads or returning to old ones through free agency, all players are pretty much with their respective teams for the long haul now.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a quiet free agent period and have managed to once again retain the core of their team, as they try to shake off a loss in Super Bowl XLV to make another run at the title game this year.
Here's a look at what players are struggling so far as we get on the road to the 2011 NFL season.
1. Limas Sweed
One of the biggest struggles the Steelers and many other teams have faced early on is on the injury front. Wide receivers Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders are out of commission for the time being.
Most, including me, thought that those two injuries would open the doors for Limas Sweed to make one final push for a roster spot. When he's been on the practice field, the oft-injured receiver has been impressive. The problem is that he can't stay on the field.
Sweed has suffered a variety of ailments thus far and is currently plagued by a sprained shoulder. The Steelers will probably waste little time on Sweed if he doesn't prove he can be a consistent contributor. This is definitely his last chance in Pittsburgh and possibly his last in the NFL as well.
2. Jonathan Dwyer
Dwyer, already a bigger back, arrived at camp slow and out of shape. In a crowded backfield, that could be a death sentence.
The Steelers currently have starter Rashard Mendenhall and specialty backs Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore. They also have rookie Baron Batch, a versatile speed back. That's a lot of players for one position. Teams usually go with three or four backs on their final roster.
Right now, Dwyer's conditioning problems are holding him back. He looked awful in the goal line drills recently, even if he did manage to score once. Mike Tomlin tires very quickly of players who can't keep in shape. If Dwyer doesn't get himself on track, he'll find himself looking for work.
3. Charlie Batch
The Steelers brought back popular backup Charlie Batch for what seems again like a final season. Batch proved to be a key piece of the puzzle last year after stepping in during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and helping the team reach a 3-1 record.
But he looks his age in camp this year, missing a lot of throws and looking generally poor overall. His throws seem to lack a lot of zip and his accuracy seems to have slipped some.
Batch has the inside track to be the third quarterback, especially with Dennis Dixon being a bit of a distraction with his attitude about returning to Pittsburgh. Still, if he doesn't improve in the coming weeks, Dixon could work his way up the depth chart and put the longtime Steeler on the chopping block.
4. Crezdon Butler
Butler was the mystery man last season, playing not a single down after being a touted late round pick out of Clemson. This year, he's getting some long looks in camp, but the results have been decidedly mixed.
Butler has been beat deep, which is surprising given his speed. He's also seemed to lose his concentration several times and then had to work to recover. The good news is that he seems to be getting better, but he's definitely struggled a bit early.
The good news for Butler is that the corner situation in Pittsburgh is a mess. Bryant McFadden is a huge question mark, William Gay was brought back even though he was awful the last two years and Keenan Lewis, the other key veteran on the roster, has had very inconsistent results.
5. Marcus Gilbert
Gilbert is a rookie, so some struggles are to be expected, but so far he's had a really rough time of it. On his first day, he got knocked to the turf several times. Since, he's been improving slowly, but he does not seem to be someone in the mix to start.
Gilbert seems to be struggling most with the speed of the defense against him. Getting knocked down in practice is a sign that he's not getting himself set before contact, something essential in a division that boasts some of the best defensive linemen and linebackers in football.
Sean Kugler has been working with Gilbert, and I'm sure he'll improve as he adjusts from college to the pros, but as of now, he's not looking too hot. Hopefully that opinion changes in the coming weeks because the Steelers need someone like him to step up at tackle.
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