When the Pittsburgh Steelers first opened training camp, it certainly seemed as though they were primed, once again, to be stacked from top to bottom at the wide receiver position, but that appears to be a less assured probability as we approach the midway point of the preseason.
In 2014, the Steelers lost two of their top four wide receivers during the offseason, but still ended up carrying six on the 53-man roster, and another two on the practice squad for a total of eight.
This year, I’m not certain that they carry more than six total between the 53-man roster and the practice squad, though it all depends on how other resources need to get allocated.
In spite of the fact that it is still fairly early on, it does seem as though the wide receiver position as far as the 53-man roster goes is pretty close to set already, with the Steelers likely to carry five of them this time, which is their norm.
Outside of the obvious starting trio, behind them are rookie third-round draft pick Sammie Coates, as well as veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose presence on the roster is obviously as attributed to his receiving ability as it is to his special teams play and his role as a mentor to the young wide receivers.
Even in spite of the fact that defensive roster spots are at a premium this year, however, it wouldn’t appear to me that there is even a sixth wide receiver in camp that is pushing particularly hard to force the team to consider carrying that extra player.
The receiver that figures to have a commanding edge as far as the practice squad goes has to be first-year player C.J. Goodwin, who in spite of not seeing any time on offense during the preseason last year, still managed to last the entire season on the practice squad, and has at times been working ahead of Coates, even working with the first-team unit when some of the starters were down.
Undrafted rookie Shakim Phillips put himself on the radar with an impressive catch in the Hall of Fame game that required him to stretch out, but he had two key drops in the last contest and was not on the same page with his quarterback at other times. It would seem to me that if he makes the practice squad, it will be because the team really wants to carry two.
And intriguing second candidate is emerging, however, and that would be former college quarterback Tyler Murphy, who seems to be playing quarterback less and less and receiver more and more, which is something that the team website has recently pointed out, if you follow such clues.
While he is raw in many aspects as a wide receiver, he has a good frame and according to reports a strong presence in the air adjusting to the ball, a skill that is difficult to teach. He can also be a valued asset as a scout team player, since his versatility will allow him to perform a number of assignments.