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.
The Steelers’ safeties should bring more intrigue this year than last when the group was essentially decided before the team stepped foot on Saint Vincent’s campus.
Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, and Will Allen are all locks. Mitchell will assuredly return to his free safety spot, and most importantly, will be healthy, a luxury he didn’t enjoy at the beginning of last year and one that ultimately hindered his play in 2014. I’ve admitted I have softened on the notion Allen could enter Week One as the starter, though still don’t consider it impossible, but Thomas should be granted every chance to become the guy at strong safety. 2015 is the year ownership releases the reigns and finds out what they have.
Robert Golden’s job is likely safe and if it isn’t, you’ll know before final cut downs. Unless another player receives snaps at the upback position on punt coverage, the quarterback of that unit, odds are strong Golden will return.
Gerod Holliman has become one of the most polarizing seventh round picks and likely a fan favorite, if for nothing else the opportunity to prove the media – like me – wrong. At maximum, the Steelers will keep five safeties, putting Holliman in direct competition with Ross Ventrone. Ventrone, of course, is the special team’s stalwart. Much like the Darrius Heyward-Bey vs C.J. Goodwin battle, it’s a battle that will exist on two different planes. Holliman is going to have to prove the ability to play there, sure, but there’s zero chance he’ll be a better special teamer than the hair-on-fire Ventrone. The rookie will need to show his worth as a true safety is too much to risk losing to gain the edge.
Of the final four safeties, only Jordan Dangerfield is a returning Steeler. A well-built, hard-hitting player, fans loved his physicality and his blasting of Michael Palmer was the most vicious hit at Saint Vincent in 2014. Still, it’ll be a terribly difficult group to crack.
With snaps difficult to come by, the rest of the group will be clawing for a chance on the practice squad. Surviving camp will be tough enough, it’s likely at least one won’t make it past the first injury. With ten listed safeties on the roster, you can bet that’ll be the first group to get looked at when making a corresponding roster decision for an injury.
You know how it’ll go. Matt Spaeth gets dinged, the team signs “X” to cover for him and cuts Isaiah Lewis.
Lewis is one of three on the bottom, joined by Alden Darby and Ian Wild. Darby has a great backstory, wonderfully examined by Ed Bouchette. Wild was a linebacker in college but at 6’0 205, profiles as a safety. How exactly he will be used will be worthy of noting. Lewis was a three year starter at Michigan State, including being named to the Big Ten’s first team his senior year. Snaps will be scarce and they will need to maximize the few chances they are given.
For them, the best case scenario is to have Holliman make the roster, leaving Ventrone cut outright and opening up another spot on the practice squad.