Breaking Down Pittsburgh Steelers' Likely Opening-Game Starting Lineup

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVAugust 17, 2015

Breaking Down Pittsburgh Steelers' Likely Opening-Game Starting Lineup

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    There should be no question where Steelers receiver Antonio Brown lands on the depth chart.
    There should be no question where Steelers receiver Antonio Brown lands on the depth chart.Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    We are now less than a month away from the Pittsburgh Steelers opening the 2015 NFL season at the New England Patriots and under two weeks from the team needing to formulate its 53-man roster. But, luckily for the Steelers, there are no controversies when it comes to their projected starters. At this point, it's about putting together the bottom of the depth chart and not the top.

    So, with that in mind, let's make a few predictions as to who will be starting for the Steelers in Week 1. Here are full prognostications for each position group.

Quarterback

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    Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

    Barring anything happening in the weeks leading up to the Steelers' regular-season debut, their starting quarterback Week 1โ€”and for the entirety of the yearโ€”will be Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is coming off of a career year and received a four-year, $87.4 million contract extension during the offseason. He's their starter for now, and for the remainder of his days in the league.

    This is Roethlisberger's team, and given his mastery of coordinator Todd Haley's system, he is also hitting the prime of his career.

Running Back

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Running Back: DeAngelo Williams

    If Le'Veon Bell were not set to serve a two-game suspension to start the season, then he'd be the no-brainer choice to be the Steelers' starting running back against the Patriots. But given that he'll be inactive, that starting job will fall to veteran DeAngelo Williams.

    Williams is more than capable of handling the majority of the Steelers' carries while Bell is on the shelf. He's entering his 10th season in the NFL and looked sharp in the team's second preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, totaling 28 yards on six carries and doing a good job of handling pass-protection duties.

    Fellow backs Dri Archer and Josh Harris could also get touches in Week 1, but the starting snap will belong to Williams at the running back position.

Wide Receiver

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton

    Having all three of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton as Week 1 starters requires the Steelers to open the game with a three-receiver set. That's not entirely out of the question, and should they do so, Brown, Bryant and Wheaton are nearly guaranteed to be the trio to get that starting snap.

    Any positional battles that remain at receiver at this point are at the bottom of the depth chart. Brown, Bryant and Wheaton won't be ceding their respective statuses to any other player.

Tight End

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    Tight End: Heath Miller

    Heath Miller may be 32 years old, but age won't prevent him from being the Steelers' starting tight end in Week 1 and throughout the season. While he does split time with fellow tight end Matt Spaeth at times, Spaeth is used almost exclusively as a blocker, while Miller is a do-it-all tight end who can block, pass protect and, of course, catch passes.ย 

    Miller may not be the red-zone and end-zone target he once was, but he's a valuable chains-mover and a trusted veteran. As has been the case since joining the team in 2005, he will be the Steelers' full-time starting tight end for 2015.

Offensive Line

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    RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

    Offensive Line (left to right): Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert

    Neither injury nor declining performance has struck the Steelers offensive line between the close of the 2014 season and the start of 2015, which means that the starters will remain the same. Kelvin Beachum will be the left tackle, Ramon Foster the left guard, Maurkice Pouncey the center, David DeCastro the right guard and Marcus Gilbert the right tackle.

    Foster and Beachum are both set to be unrestricted free agents next year, and barring contract extensions, both or either could move on in 2016. But for now, the Steelers line remains 100 percent intact from 2014.

Defensive Line

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Defensive Line (left to right): Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt

    Steelers left defensive end Cameron Heyward is the team's best defensive player; needless to say, he'll be starting at end for the foreseeable future, not just in Week 1. Steve McLendon is set to reprise his role at nose tackle this year and should have better results after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

    The only change is that second-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt will be posted up on the right side of the line, now that Brett Keisel has officially retired. Tuitt played 456 snaps last year at left end, according to Pro Football Focus, but earned the starting job beginning in Week 14. His second year should be far more productive than his rookie season.

Linebackers

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Inside Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier

    Outside Linebackers: Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones

    Now healthy and as impressive as the Steelers had hoped a year ago, second-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier appears poised to be starting alongside established veteran Lawrence Timmons, avoiding the three-man timeshare he ended the 2014 season in with Vince Williams and Sean Spence.

    At outside linebacker, it's possible that James Harrison could get the Week 1 starting snap over Jarvis Jones on the right side, but for now it's fair to pencil in Jones as the starter. Arthur Moats, who has been working ahead of rookie Bud Dupree all summer long, will start at the left outside linebacker position against New England.

Safety

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Safety: Shamarko Thomas, Mike Mitchell

    Since veteran safety Troy Polamalu retired in the spring, it was clear that 2013 Round 4 draft pick Shamarko Thomas would be taking on his starting job. He will be joined by free safety Mike Mitchell, who underwent surgery on two torn groin muscles during the offseason and will hopefully be more comfortable and productive as a result.

    The Steelers have a number of young, intriguing safeties, such as Ian Wild and Jordan Dangerfield, as well as veteran Will Allen on the depth chart. But none will be forcing Thomas and Mitchell down the depth chart between now and Week 1.

Cornerback

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Cornerbacks: William Gay, Cortez Allen, Brandon Boykin

    The Steelers will likely experiment at the cornerback position a great deal this year, but at this point it appears that William Gay and Cortez Allen will be starting on the outside, while Brandon Boykin will be the team's starting slot cornerback.

    The trio could also swap roles depending on the situation, and Antwon Blake could also have significant playing time this year, especially if Allen struggles much as he did in 2014. But, as far as Week 1 is concerned, these three will be Pittsburgh's primary cornerbacks.

Special Teams

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Kicker: Garrett Hartley

    Punter: Brad Wing

    Long Snapper: Greg Warren

    Kick Returner: Dri Archer

    Punt Returner: Markus Wheaton

    With longtime Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham out for the year with a torn ACL, the team has had to turn to free agent Garrett Hartley to handle its field-goal and extra-point duties. If he's still on the roster come Week 1, he's clearly the starter.

    At punter, Brad Wing is currently fighting off challenger Jordan Berry for his roster spot. Berry could still surpass Wing, given that there are still three preseason games left, but for now, the incumbent gets the edge. Long snapper Greg Warren, meanwhile, has no competition for his job and should keep it.

    Punt and kick returner, meanwhile, are just guesses. Archer handled the majority of the Steelers' kick return duties in Week 2 of the preseason and could thus be the kick returner in the regular season. Punts, meanwhile, belonged primarily to young receiver Kenzel Doe and not to Markus Wheaton or Antonio Brown, who handled the majority of punt-return duties last year.

    Assuming that Doe is not on the 53-man roster and the Steelers wise up about having Brown, their star receiver, subjected to the punishment of a punt returner, then Wheaton seems the next best option at the position.

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