As the calendar continues to push forward, we hasten upon the end of July, where looms the beginning of training camp, the necessary respite for all football fans who have been the past six weeks wondering what to do with themselves—as least as far as the game goes.
With the start of training camp also comes the start of meaningful competition, and I’m not just talking about players getting to put on pads and smash into each other. There are battles to be won. Position battles, roster battles. Battles for starting jobs.
Before we get too deep into the swing of training camp, here is a quick series that provides a preview of some of the most significant battles that will have to be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason, though the regular season can always decide to change the results.
One of the big questions that has to be worked out between now and the beginning of the regular season is just who the Steelers will have lining up in the slot on defense when the team plays in their nickel package, which has become their base defense.
Last season, Pittsburgh relied primarily on the veteran wiles of William Gay in that role, who is now entering his 10th season, but late in the year they promoted Brandon Boykin in that role in order to leave Gay outside in both the 3-4 and the nickel packages.
My sense, and the sense of the majority, is that they don’t plan to move Gay back and forth between the outside and the slot this year if they could help it. Presumably, the top candidate to play in that nickel role is second-year second-round cornerback Senquez Golson, who is fighting an uphill battle.
Golson missed all of his rookie season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum, and he also missed most of the spring workouts with the team presumably holding him out in part to ensure that he is as healthy as possible to open training camp.
He missed all of training camp last year, but we will find out today just what sort of health he is in today. Hot on his heels figures to be rookie second-round safety Sean Davis, who also has experience playing cornerback, as he did in his final season in college.
Davis spent the spring mixing with Golson in working with the first- and second-team defenses in the slot, signaling the fact that it is a very real possibility that he ends up in that role, and he of course would not be the first rookie safety in the past decade to see time in the slot for this defense.
In the outside chance, however, that Artie Burns particularly impresses or the former two struggle, it may be that Burns enters in sub-packages and Gay slides into the nickel, though this seems like the least likely of the three more probable outcomes in determining the team’s base defense personnel.