Steelers 2015 Training Camp Battles Preview: Defensive End

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 team’s starting defensive ends are in no dispute. The newly inked Cameron Heyward will line opposite Stephon Tuitt, the latter poised for a breakout year. What’s behind them, however,  is murky and one of the true battles of camp. A wide open, Wild West competition without any preconceived notion entering Latrobe.

Cam Thomas is the incumbent. As much hate that gets thrown his way, he holds that card over every other single player in competition. It’s not much but the only positive you can give the former Charger. Now that Daniel McCullers is the backup nose tackle, Thomas’ versatility – and by extension his value – is lessened.

Matt Conrath is a player I’ve raved about during the offseason. Built for a 3-4, he spent the latter portion of his college career and previous time in the NFL in  4-3. He’s now in a scheme suited for his size but has the benefit of a penetrative mindset, a likely emphasis from Keith Butler.

Also bringing NFL experience is Clifton Geathers along with one of the most unique body types on the roster. Slimmed down after losing 50 pounds during the offseason, the former Washington Redskin stands tall at 6’7 1/2 with 37 3/4 inch arms, ostensibly the longest vines in the league. Really curious to see how fast he can play at a lighter weight.

Sixth round pick L.T. Walton has a less ostentatious appearance but is still a well-built 6’5 319. His Central Michigan tape indicates a non-stop motor, no doubt a big reason why he was selected, but given the difficulty of the position, and switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, he seems ticketed for the practice squad.

Ethan Hemer spent training camp with the team and a good portion of the regular season on the practice squad, time that many of these other players can’t boast. He’s a hard-worker with a feel-good story but still lacks the athleticism, or any defining trait, to make a push for the 53.

A UDFA out of Liberty, Niko Davis really came on his senior year. We profiled him weeks ago and it’s another fascinating story, going from preacher to football player. Part of me is intrigued with this guy and he might turn some heads but I also recognize he’s shooting for the practice squad in a best-case scenario.

Joe Kruger has bloodlines but lacks an NFL resume. Like so many of the others, his size is worthy of bringing him into camp at a legit 6’6 and by this point, probably around 300 pounds.

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