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.
I admit that I can’t help but be intrigued by the tight end group that the Steelers are bringing with them to camp this season, even if my mind is telling me that the battle for the roster is fairly clear-cut at this point, with there unlikely to be much of any surprises.
It goes without saying that Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, each of whom are under contract for the next two seasons, are roster locks, barring injuries, due to a substantial body of work of past success, as recently as the last game that they’ve played. They are certainly in no foreseeable danger of losing out in a numbers game at this stage in their careers.
Behind the, however, is an interesting group of unproven players that is headed by rookie fifth-round draft pick Jesse James, whose 6’7”, 260-pound frame is intriguing as block a blocking and receiving threat, both of which the coaching staff appears to believe that he can offer.
James only recently turned 21 after coming out as a junior, in part due to the fact that he felt that his skillset was being misused at Penn State, and that it could negatively affect his draft stock—or at least that playing another season in those circumstances would not improve his stock.
Fellow rookie Cameron Clear was signed after the draft as an undrafted free agent, who had previously taken a visit with the Steelers. The team was active and open about their desire to add competition to this position during the draft, and they managed to add two players that they targeted.
Clear was not a particularly regarded prospect. In spite of his substantial size, he does not have the reputation of being a strong, let alone dominant, blocker, nor was he much of a receiver during his collegiate days. Nevertheless, there are indications that the staff is intrigued by his abilities, so it will be interesting to play out.
Also in the mixed is first-year former seventh-round draft selection Rob Blanchflower, who spent all of last season on the practice squad. He showed some promise as both a blocker and a receiver during his limited work in the preseason, but he has had issues staying healthy, and certainly doesn’t seem to be a better prospect than James.
Rounding out the group is Michael Egnew, a former third-round pick of the Dolphins. Not much of a blocker at all, Egnew’s draft stock was predicated upon his impressive measureables, which he has yet to live up to, and there are no indications that he will begin to do so now.
It seems unlikely, in my estimation, that the Steelers would consider, at this point, carrying four tight ends, particularly with Will Johnson serving in a tight end-like capacity. To that end, I think the most reasonable prediction at this juncture is that James is the favorite to make the roster, with Clear and Blanchflower vying for a spot on the practice squad, but either one could surprise and compete with James for the last tight end spot on the roster.