Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers trotted out their shiniest new toy and held it up high for everyone to see when they plugged their first-round draft pick, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier into the starting lineup with the very first OTA session, which is practically unheard of for the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Of course, the Steelers also found themselves in an uncommon position at the spot as well. Having parted ways with Larry Foote, who spent almost all of the previous season on injured reserve, the only players on the roster vying for meaningful playing time were Vince Williams and Sean Spence.
Williams, a second-year former sixth-round draft pick, had to start games by default because there was nobody else to, but his presence in the lineup encouraged the team to play most of their snaps down the stretch in the dime in part to get him off the field. Spence had spent his first two years in the league rehabbing his knee and couldn’t know if he could be counted upon.
So while his own accomplishments, and the fact that he was a physical specimen, played a large role in encouraging the team to put him into the starting lineup, the truth is that he was walking into a situation conducive to already playing him.
The young defensive rookies this year are finding out that they will not be getting the royal treatment. First-round draft pick Bud Dupree is running the second-team reps at left outside linebacker, for example.
Meanwhile, second-round cornerback Senquez Golson is just playing wherever he’s told, which has varied significantly early on, including behind fellow rookie Doran Grant. So far he has played everywhere from the second-team slot position to the fourth-team defense.
But I don’t imagine it will be too long before he begins climbing up the depth chart in a healthy manner. Where he is lining up during OTAs really doesn’t mean much of anything, where the main takeaway is of an instructional rather than evaluative nature.
The fact that the Steelers are lining him up all over the place indicates to me that they want to assure his versatility to maximize his utility to the team once the regular season starts so that he will actually be prepared to make contributions on the defensive side of the ball in sub-packages.
I do believe that the team has enough variability now that they may be able to be selective based on what the offense is showing them. Say, for example, the offense goes three wide, but leaves a tall target out of the right side.
They could go to the nickel, leave Cortez Allen on the boundary, and slide Golson into the slot, rather than shuffling more things around in order to get Antwon Blake, at 5’9”, into the game on the outside.
Just how much they might need him to contribute will depend greatly on Allen’s ability to bounce back from last season, of course. But I get the impression that they are making sure he’ll be ready should it become necessary.