Roster Holes Steelers Must Fill Ahead of Training Camp

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJuly 21, 2021

Roster Holes Steelers Must Fill Ahead of Training Camp

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers added to their defensive depth earlier this week by adding Melvin Ingram.

    The quality in the front seven of Pittsburgh's defense has never come under question this offseason, but the players behind them have. 

    Pittsburgh's secondary is its biggest positional question mark going into training camp. Veterans Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick are in place at the top of the cornerback and safety depth charts, but the AFC North side could use more talent around them to contend in the division. 

    Some of those concerns could be answered during training camp, but if they are not, the Steelers may have to dip into the free-agent market to add reinforcements prior to Week 1. 


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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The departures of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson will hang over the Pittsburgh defense until a few cornerbacks step up in training camp to capture more snaps. 

    Haden is the established veteran of the group and the front-runner to start on one of the flanks come Week 1. 

    Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne and James Pierre could all thrive in larger roles in 2021, but they are all unproven corners heading into training camp. 

    Sutton is the only one of the three players who has started a game in the NFL. Pierre and Layne combined for 32 tackles during the 2020 campaign in their limited time. 

    The good news for Tomlin and his staff is that Layne and Pierre have experience within the system and could make the leap from reserve to starter.

    However, if neither player can confidently make that jump, the Steelers will have to search the free-agent market, where Nelson still resides among others, to fill in the gaps around Haden and Sutton. 


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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh's trade for Fitzpatrick in 2019 was one of the best deals the franchise made in recent memory.

    Fitzpatrick led the Steelers in interceptions and tackles in 2020, and he is once again expected to be a commanding presence on the defense in 2021. 

    Terrell Edmunds will start alongside Fitzpatrick at safety. Edmunds was third on the roster in tackles with 68, and he picked off a pair of passes last season.

    After the two starters, the Steelers face a significant drop off in depth that could hurt them against a few dynamic passing offenses in the AFC North. 

    The Cleveland Browns will get Odell Beckham Jr. back from an injury, and the Baltimore Ravens added Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman to reinforce their group around Lamar Jackson.

    The Pittsburgh secondary will be required to be at its best on every down in the crucial divisional matchups. If Fitzpatrick or Edmunds have to miss some time or snaps, the younger safeties on the roster might get burned. 

    Pittsburgh does not have to worry about its depth on the defensive line or linebacker, especially with the Ingram signing, but most of the young safeties on the second line of the depth chart are unproven.

    There is a chance that Antoine Brooks, Miles Killebrew and others take hold of the reserve roles in training camp, but for now, it does not look too promising beneath the starters. 

Offensive Line

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    Kirk Irwin/Associated Press

    The Steelers should feel comfortable with their depth at most offensive positions. 

    The first-round addition of Najee Harris at running back added more backfield depth around Ben Roethlisberger

    JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and others give the experienced quarterback plenty of options to work with in the passing game. At tight end, the Steelers added Pat Freiermuth to compete with Eric Ebron. 

    That leaves offensive line as the biggest offensive question mark because of all of the turnover at the position. 

    Chukwuma Okorafor, Trai Turner and Zach Banner are among the experienced linemen in place to protect Roethlisberger. 

    Experience will not be an issue, like it is in the defensive backfield, but the Steelers do need to develop chemistry among new members of the five-man unit before Week 1. 

    If the Steelers answer those concerns, they should provide enough protection for Roethlisberger and blocking lanes for Harris and Co. to contend in the AFC North.


    Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference