Steelers 2015 Training Camp Battles Preview: Wide Receiver

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 next position we’ll examine is the wide receiver. The Steelers kept six receivers out of camp in 2014, given the uncertainty on the back end of the roster. Justin Brown didn’t last the whole year, Lance Moore faded away, and Darrius Heyward-Bey became a blocking offensive lineman who happened to split out wide.

There is more clarity in 2015 with four roster locks: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Sammie Coates.Beyond that, there could be a theoretical battle between Heyward-Bey and C.J. Goodwin but if it exists, it’ll take place on two different planes. Goodwin will not best him on special teams, the second year receiver isn’t going to hold a candle in experience to DHB. And Heyward-Bey does not have the potential at receiver that the springy Goodwin offers. If Goodwin makes a true push, it’ll come dominating backups in the preseason, showing that he’s worth ascending to the 53 man roster.

Could the team keep both? It’s not out of the question, especially since the team kept six last year. It’s not as if Brown or Moore were core special teamers  – they didn’t participate there.

Pragmatically, it’s reasonable to say Heyward-Bey is the fifth and final receiver on the roster with Goodwin going back to the practice squad. Without even thinking about it in terms of a battle, it’s just going to be exciting to see what Goodwin can offer on the field. That’s something none of us know.

Beyond that, and maybe this is me being swept up in the offseason eternal hope, this is a really deep position. Eli Rogers received a lot of praise in training camp as a quick-twitch rookie with return value. Shakim Phillips was one of the top high schoolers in the country when he came out only to be stuck in run-heavy offenses his entire career. Then there’s Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy, quarterback/receiver hybrids whose true roles are wholly unknown right now. Lot of intrigue and probably some difficult cuts when the time comes.

Even if Goodwin makes the 53, I wouldn’t be surprised the team to keep another receiver and one of Gardner/Murphy on the practice squad, giving them eight in all. Just as the team is more willing to go heavier in the secondary, stocking up on receivers is a common theme in a pass-driven league.

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