Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp.
Our last group we’re looking at, just in time for the start of camp. My expectations for the safeties in training camp.
Mike Mitchell: He’s healthy and that’s the most critical component. I get the idea of excusing Mitchell due to him being new to the defense but he excelled with the Carolina Panthers in 2013, his first and only season, with a rotating door at safety next to him, including rookie UDFA Robert Lester. Like any player typically patrolling the deep third, he needs to keep everything in front of him. I’d love to see two turnovers from him too, an interception and a forced fumble, across the five games. With a healthy groin, hopefully his angles coming down the alley against the run will be more consistent, too.
Shamarko Thomas: We still have to find out for sure he’s going to enter the season at the starter. It seems likely but the coaches have always ridden Thomas hard and I don’t expect 2015 to be any different – he has to show something in the preseason. We know he’s a missile and can play the run but how does he function in space? Covering the deep half and, this might be more important, how he does when forced to read the QBs eyes in Robber coverage. Across the league and in Pittsburgh, you most often see single-high formations with Thomas in the box.
He may have been in the system for three years but actually being out on the field and anticipating coverages, reading the QBs eyes, even things as simple as reading your pass/run keys, just can’t be replicated away from stadiums. I’m expecting mistakes and that’s ok. But I want to see him learn and grow at a rapid pace. There’s no more time to babysit.
Will Allen: This will be Allen’s 12th season so it’s not like there’s anything left to learn about him. If there is anybody to replace Robert Golden as the upback, it’d likely be this guy. So I’ll be watching to see if he snags snaps during practice or in-game.
Robert Golden: I’ve repeatedly said I don’t envision Golden as ever being a threat for time on defense. That proved itself in 2013 and when the team decided to spend the money on bringing in Mitchell. That caps Golden’s value as a special teamer but he is a good one and the quarterback of the punting unit. It’s only a question if somebody can bump him off the roster.
Gerod Holliman: You’re all well aware of my thoughts on Holliman but again, let me make it clear: I want this kid to succeed and I’m coming into camp with a clean slate, forgetting about what he did or didn’t do in college.
I want to see effort with him, first and foremost. If you don’t have that, I don’t care how many passes you pick off. His tackling needs to be at a much higher level than where it was at Louisville, clean technique with him squaring up to his defender and wrapping up as opposed to leading with his shoulder.
Holliman will probably look good in non-padded practices and I bet he picks a pass off within the first two days of camp. The games, like any player but especially for him, will be his true litmus test.
Ross Ventrone: You know what you have in him and that might end up being the reason why he doesn’t make this team. A stellar special team player, Ventrone posses little additional upside. I don’t think there’s anything more for him to show. He just has to hope Danny Smith puts in a good final word.
Jordan Dangerfield: Big-hitter. We learned that last year. How does he look in coverage? Is he more fluid and less stiff in his turn than I saw in 2014? If he can show that, he could become a player with some legitimate potential.
Alden Darby: Now we get into the kids that are focusing more on the practice squad than a realistic chance at making the Week One roster. For Darby and the remaining players we talk about, snaps alone are going to be difficult to come by. It bewilders me why this team is hoarding ten safeties when realistically, only seven have the chance to get snaps each day in practice. And Darby starts us at #8, meaning he is going to struggle to see the field. No reps equals no chance. He’s going to have to find a way to get the coaches to get him more playing time. Maybe he can play corner, too?
Isaiah Lewis: Dave said he was intrigued by him and I don’t know enough either way to say that’s right or wrong, but count me as skeptical. There is a decent enough resume with him, a three year starter at Michigan State and a player voted to the Big Ten First-Team his senior year. But does that make him more than a camp body? I don’t know. He needs to make some splash plays.
Ian Wild: Sneaky suspicion this guy winds up playing inside linebacker in camp, considering that was his position in college and the CFL. If Shayon Green is an outside linebacker, then the Steelers will have only six ILBs coming into camp. For reference, they had seven last year. Again, ten safeties seems like way too many.
Should he stick at safety, speed and agility are going to be vital. Is he going to be exposed in space? Can he turn and run to break on the corner route in a smash concept? I really think he’s going to struggle and if my recommendation means anything – it doesn’t – putting him back at linebacker would be the best case for him and the team.
What kind of snaps is a #10 safety going to receive? Three per practice? Come on, be fair to the guy.