With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
Yesterday was the very beginning of this process, and we got some immediate answers to the question posed yesterday, which was just how healthy the team was as a whole coming into training camp.
The answer? Less than we thought, as the Steelers open up camp with no less than five players on the Physically Unable to Perform list, including one starter, though his injury is reported to be day to day.
As is usually the case, the answers provided have served only to pose more questions, and with the news of the multiple injuries to open up camp that were significant enough to warrant a stay on the Active PUP, there are a number of questions to choose from.
I think that the most interesting, though not the most significant question that we get from this is just how seriously this stint on the sidelines will affect outside linebacker Shawn Lemon’s admittedly already marginal chances of making the 53-man roster.
While Alex Kozora had him making his initial 53-man roster, I actually had Lemon on the outside looking in, behind Howard Jones on the 53-man roster and Anthony Chickillo on the practice squad.
Lemon may be technically the most experienced of the back half of the outside linebacker depth chart, having played professionally in Canada for the past few years, but the fact that he is already slated to turn 27 just under a month from today certainly plays against him.
Lemon does have the professional experience advantage on his resume, even though he has admitted that it took him a few years to learn what it means to play within a scheme, and that partly helps explain why he was able to have a breakout season in the CFL last year, notching 13 sacks and eight forced fumbles. Of course, the CFL offers a lower level of competition—and plays an 18-game season.
Jones, to me, is already in the driver’s seat because he has shown himself to be a capable special-teams contributor and has already spent an entire season in the Steelers’ system, sitting on the practice squad last year.
While it’s unclear just where Lemon resided in the pecking order prior to this setback, I would guess that he probably ran predominantly with the third-team group of linebackers. Chickillo likely ran with the fours, and will probably be taking most of the reps that Lemon is missing.
Obviously, how much this injury affects Lemon’s chances of making the roster is directly proportional to how long it takes him to get back on the field. He has an Achilles strain, though it sounds like it’s slightly more than insignificant. If he misses enough time, he can fall behind far enough where he won’t have enough time to catch up, even if the Steelers play five preseason games this year.