By now everybody is more than fully aware of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers will have on their hands an extended training camp this summer in light of the fact that they will be among the two teams competing in the Hall of Fame game.
By virtue of that fact, the Steelers have the opportunity of opening up training camp a week earlier than they would have been allowed to otherwise, and they will also be engaging in a total of five preseason games, as opposed to the routine four that 30 teams are slated to play in August.
For the veteran players, this is an unnecessary extension to what is typically the most grueling and unsatisfactory portion of the long build-up to the start of the NFL season. Established players at this point in their careers know what they’re doing, and generally don’t take long to work themselves into the form necessary for them to compete.
For the young, unproven players, this is of course a boon, an extended audition to prove themselves to their coaches, and, failing that, hopefully to the coaches of some other team that may claim them off waivers, should the Steelers release them.
But where it will most benefit the team this particular offseason will be in helping to determine a few key depth battles at certain positions where the Steelers prioritized adding a wealth of competition, knowing that they will have the time on the practice field and in stadiums in August to work through the possibilities.
There are three positions in particular that should benefit from the extended look, I think, with those being safety, outside linebacker, and the interior offensive line. Just consider the numbers that the Steelers are carrying at each position.
They have eight outside linebackers on a roster that typically carries four, with an occasional fifth. They have an absurd 10 safeties on the roster. Last season, they ended up carrying six safeties during portions of the year, but that is obviously an anomaly. It’s far more likely than not that half of that competition will fail to make the roster.
The Steelers also have nine interior offensive linemen for what figures to be five spots—possibly four, though the odds are on five for this season. The majority of these players have center-guard versatility, which serves to their advantage.
And the longer look is also to their advantage, because they will have a greater opportunity to show that they can play at multiple positions. The outside linebackers and safeties, meanwhile, will have more opportunities to show that they can contribute on special teams.
But most crucially, the simple fact of the matter is that there will be more snaps to go around during the preseason, which means that the players further down the depth chart are more likely to get a fair look. Depending on the team’s circumstances during a given season—if the offense is working in a new system, for example—depth reps might be hard to come by in the preseason.
I don’t expect that to be the case this year. Hopefully, everybody at each of these positions, as well as others, will get the opportunity to display their worthiness of a spot on the 53-man roster during the preseason. That way we can be more confident in the belief that the best 53 were kept.