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.
While I am not entirely sure just how likely it might be that somebody other than Ross Cockrell opens up the regular season as the starting left cornerback for the Steelers, I do believe that the preseason and training camp should be an interesting barometer for where the position stands, with the competition provided by two recent high draft picks.
The obvious prize is 2016 first-round draft pick Artie Burns, but he was a junior when he declared, and raw even for that level, so it would be quite a challenge to get him into the Steelers’ starting lineup, especially given that they so value the ability to play error-free football.
Though most seem to hasten him into the slot, 2015 second-round draft pick Senquez Golson is also in the running to compete for a starting cornerback spot on the outside, provided that he is healthy enough to do so, and I have not heard anything suggesting that that will not be the case.
Golson, of course, has been plagued by injury in his young career. He underwent surgery during his rookie training camp to repair a torn labrum that had given him issues for some time, he revealed earlier this year, but after recovering from that, he also suffered through some minor ailments that kept him out of most of spring drills.
I do believe he returned in at least some limited capacity by the end of minicamp, however, and that the team exercised supreme caution with the intent of getting him ready for training camp. Given that that is almost here and we haven’t heard anything to the contrary, I’m expecting him to be ready to go.
Cockrell, however, should be the obvious favorite, in my opinion, having gained valuable experience in the system last year and proving to be a quick learner. He logged over 60 percent of the team’s snaps last year, and since then has added bulk in order to improve his strength, a target area of concern for him.
There may be some sort of rotation or certain packages that the team employs at times based on game situations or matchups the mixes and matches the cornerback personnel, but I believe by the end of the exhibition process, Cockrell is likely to line up with the starters in the opener.