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.
Many questions are raised during training camp, some of which are quickly answered, while others linger unresolved. But there are some questions that you enter training camp with, and the question for today is of that nature.
With the release of Brett Keisel and the salary of Cam Thomas, there could be some spots open along the defensive line. By the time the regular season starts, who will be slotted into the depth chart on the 53-man roster?
The Steelers did return all six of the linemen that were on the roster at the end of the season, including the starters, Daniel McCullers, Thomas, and Clifton Geathers, who was signed after Keisel’s season-ending injury.
Outside of the starters, however, I don’t believe that anybody has a position locked down outside of McCullers. While Geathers was re-signed upon request, that is still merely an opportunity. He must show that he belongs. And while Thomas has gotten some positive feedback, the fact that he is due a $2 million base salary will be a question on cut down day.
The Steelers did use a sixth-round draft pick on defensive end L.T. Walton, who has spent most of the offseason running as the second-team left defensive end on a line that also included McCullers and Geathers, but it’s far too early in the process to read far into that.
With McCullers sidelined the past few days with a hamstring injury, Thomas has been running as the second-team nose tackle. He also ran as the first-team nose tackle when Steve McLendon sat out or was limited.
Thomas’s position flexibility may offset the cost of his salary, which is generally more than you would want to spend on a backup defensive lineman. But the Steelers can afford that salary as long as he shows himself to be the best option.
Ethan Hemer and Joe Kruger both spent time on the practice squad last season, and will have an opportunity to try to move up the depth chart during the preseason. I would imagine that they will receive the most time as third-team defensive ends in a few games.
It will all come down to the games. The starting defensive line is solidly in place. One reserve spot is secured. The other two spots should be competitive. We should start to formulate clearer answers on Sunday.