As the days continue to tick away before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2015 training camp opens in Latrobe at the end of the month, we continue to preview some of the major storylines to look out for as the weeks progress.
One of the more exciting aspects of training camp is always keeping an eye on the roster battles, and the Steelers appear to have a deeper 90-man roster than has been the case in recent years. As a result, there are several spots in particular at which the coaching staff figures to have a difficult decision to make when the roster cuts must be made.
Last season, the Steelers carried six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster through most of the season until Cortez Allen was placed on injured reserve. There is nothing unusual about that; what was unusual is that they were also carrying five, and later six, safeties, at one point maintaining 12 defensive backs on the active roster.
The Steelers lost two men from that squad with the retirement of Ike Taylor and the free agent departure of Brice McCain, but they also added two new players via the draft in the high to mid rounds who are a virtually shoe-in to make the roster. and Kevin Fogg, who clung to the practice squad last season, is not to be forgotten, either.
With Taylor and McCain gone—each of whom were starters for much of last season, when healthy in the case of the former—the hierarchy, for now, starts with William Gay at the top, with Allen getting the first opportunity to reclaim his starting position.
Entering his fourth season, Antwon Blake is expected to play a key role early on—or at least for as long as he can hold off the rookies. Based on spring practices, he will move to the left outside corner spot in the nickel defense, moving Allen from the left side to the right and shifting Gay from outside to the slot.
As mentioned, second-rounder Senquez Golson and fourth-rounder Doran Grant have to be considered virtual locks to make the roster, barring something truly unforeseen. With Gay, Allen, and Blake all assured spots as well—the Steelers already picked up Allen’s roster bonus, remember; Blake is a core special teams player—that is five spots taken up already, with no guarantee for a sixth.
It is, however, the norm around the league to carry at least six cornerbacks, particularly in this era, and some teams carry even more. So if the Steelers do carry a sixth, as would be expected, that spot will come down to either Fogg or the man who owned that slot last year, B.W. Webb, who remains a bit of an enigma.
A 2013 fourth-round draft pick by the Cowboys, he failed to make the final cuts last season and the Steelers picked him up off waivers, keeping him on the roster all year. He contributed minimally on special teams and saw south of double-digit snaps on defense last year.
There is some intrigue behind both players. For Webb, he was talented enough to be drafted in the mid rounds, and is known to have been given interest by the Steelers. The fact that he was given any snaps without going through the offseason is not insignificant. His story at this point is reminiscent of Blake’s.
Fogg, meanwhile, has had plenty working against him as a first-year player with just a bit of practice squad time under his belt, but he managed to impress some during the spring, including teammates and beat writers, with his highlight being a pick six of Ben Roethlisberger.
The loser of this battle figures to go to the practice squad, but it still seems unlikely that we see the Steelers go through all of training camp without adding at least one more cornerback to the mix. And we have seen such late entrants make the practice squad or 53-man roster in the recent past.