A few months back, in the lead up to the 2015 NFL Draft, both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert strongly suggested, and then said outright, that there were several positions that they regarded as up for grabs on the defensive side of the ball for this Pittsburgh Steelers group.
But a few months on, do we still believe that? At least as far as the opening day starters go, is there really much dispute about who is believed to be the starter come September at just about every defensive spot?
The suggestion was that there were opportunities all over the defense—the mack linebacker, both outside linebacker spots, at least one cornerback spot, strong safety. Of course, technically, every year is a competition at every position. But there tends to be a remarkable consistency between who is expected to start and who ends up starting.
I don’t think there’s much doubt any longer that Ryan Shazier will start from the get-go this year after he lost his starting spot as a rookie due to mounting injuries. While inside linebacker may be deep, it’s obvious that Shazier has the most talent and potential, and they want to see that potential. He starts until he falls on his face, which may never happen for a decade.
Jarvis Jones is going to start at right outside linebacker. They need to know what he can offer, especially this season since they have to decide on his fifth-year option next offseason. He barely had a sophomore season due to injury. James Harrison was a godsend last year, but it’s wise to plan to limit his work to keep him fresh.
After thrusting Shazier and Jones into starting spots as rookies, Bud Dupree will not be given the trial by fire, although he may ultimately win the job at some point during the season. But on opening day, it will be Arthur Moats, who has done nothing since joining the Steelers to suggest that he can’t be a solid starter.
Mike Mitchell is going to start. The team likes him even if you don’t. Just to get that out of the way. But there are still people convinced that Tomlin will throw 33-year-old Will Allen into the starting lineup ahead of Shamarko Thomas, an assessment I can’t agree with.
Last year, the Steelers re-signed Allen immediately upon the start of free agency. This time, they waited to sign him until after Troy Polamalu retired, even though they already knew that, one way or another, Polamalu would not be on the roster. This is an indication of the shift in the hierarchy from Allen to Thomas. It’s his time.
William Gay has to start simply because there really is no better option. The only position reasonably in contention is the left corner spot currently filled by Cortez Allen, who had a dreadful season last year and was demoted, benched, and IRed.
Antwon Blake could throw his hat into the ring after coming on late last year in his playing time. It’s unlikely, but if Senquez Golson has a strong preseason and Allen struggles, he could be given the trial by fire.
For a team that will have at least four different opening day starters from last year, that’s really not a lot of uncertainty, far less than was suggested a while back. Of course, injuries can always throw a wrench into these things, but otherwise all but one position seems to be a safe bet, and even that final result seems more likely to come up than not.