In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.
Last one guys. Today, the safeties.
Mike Mitchell – Last year was the version of Mike Mitchell the Steelers hoped for. Now, it’s just a matter of health. Put that “The People’s Elbow” away until Washington, Mike. Because with his style, it’s pretty much a given he’ll be worn down, the old Chevy in the backyard covered in leaves, by the end of the season. Preserve your health now. I’d start him on PUP and hold him out for a week.
Robert Golden – I want to see someone who is a playmaker. Who is a game-changer. Golden does a lot of things right. He’s excellent in run support, a physical tackler, and good-enough in coverage. But I want to see him become an impact guy in the latter or he might not have the staying power.
Sean Davis – He’s gotta dip his toe back into the safety waters and though it’s his most natural position, it’s still a transition while adjusting to the game’s highest level. I like his feet and ability to close downhill but how does he flip and turn as the single high safety? Or the deep half in Cover 2? Does he show the ball skills playing in space? The more space you have, the smarter you have to be, and the less you can get by on just physical skills. It’ll be a challenge but I hope – and expect – him to embrace it.
Also, how will Keith Butler get him involved in the defense? Third safety? Work in the slot? Will he replace Robert Golden as the upback on punts? Lot to take in.
Shamarko Thomas – I think the thing he doesn’t realize is that most of us, myself included, root for the guy. You have to love his story and be crushed by a career arc that hasn’t taken the path expected. That doesn’t mean his career is over nor does it mean he isn’t of use to the Steelers. But as a piece on defense, this is his last chance and even that window is small after drafting Davis.
Mistake free football. That’s vital for Shark. Yup, we all know it, so I’m not going to harp on it for paragraphs. Even if he fails in that regard, he is still an excellent special teamer who will be a starting gunner. You can write that in pen.
Ross Ventrone – As I’ve written about and said on the podcast, his roster spot is not about him. It’s about everyone else. He just has to keep doing his thing. Run down kicks and punts with the zest of a used car salesman trying to meet his monthly quota. And just watch the rest of things play out.
Jacob Hagen – Hagen is regarded as a ballhawk in college with big hands. He needs to show those skills in practice and in games. And he better be able to get his nose dirty. Who was the last passive Steelers’ safety to make an impact on this defense?
Jordan Dangerfield – If you’re like me, you almost forgot this guy was still on the roster. But he’s back again to throw his body into unsuspecting receivers. He has the motivation of a new child in his family but he’s never been able to evolve from the shell of anyone but an in-the-box hitter. At this point, I’m not sure that’s changing. But if it does, he could be a sleeper or at least, an easy dude to root for.
Ray Vinopal – A local guy from Pitt, I don’t know a ton about him. So he needs to make plays that force me to get to know this guy. Because even if we assume Mitchell isn’t around, and at some point he’ll get his reps, there are seven safeties fighting for six spots (three pairs). Someone is the odd man out and when the need for the first cut happens (could be today when PUP guys are announced), they could look at safety as the first position to trim.