The wait is finally over. Later today, the Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the start of their 2016 training camp. It’s a glorious time as the team will have 14 practices in the coming weeks and that includes two scrimmages against the Detroit Lions.
Over the course of the next several weeks, there will be several things to watch for leading up to the regular season and I have consolidated them into seven different categories.
Bell/Harrison Watch – Upon arriving to Latrobe on Thursday, one would think that running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker James Harrison might want to get their initial sessions with the media out of the way as soon as possible. While Bell will likely be asked about his reported pending four-game suspension, missed drug test and appeal, he isn’t likely to have much, if any, to say about each topic which would be wise. Most of what he has to say could be about his overall health and rehab from last year’s knee injury. As for Harrison, I’m not really sure what to expect from him concerning his current tiff with the league regarding them wanting to interview him as part of their PEDS investigation. Will they talk on Thursday? We’ll find out in a few hours.
PUP Watch – After checking in, the Steelers players will take part in the annual conditioning test. After that is over, head coach Mike Tomlin will address the media and at that time he should let us know the players who will start training camp off on the Active PUP list. Bell and new tight end Ladarius Green are the two big names that we all will be listening closely for and it seems like every year we get a surprise addition.
Contract Watch – At some point between now and the start of the regular season, guard David DeCastro should sign a new long term contract extension. While it’s not guaranteed to happen, linebacker Lawrence Timmons could receive an extension as well. It will also be interesting to see how the Steelers handle wide receiver Antonio Brown over the course of the next several weeks. Will general manager Kevin Colbert cave and give him a lucrative extension and thus make him the highest paid wide receiver in the league, or will the organization pay him forward some of his 2017 base salary and wait to extend him next offseason? Will Bell get a new deal if he wins his appeal?
Injury Watch – Unfortunately, the start of training camp means the risk of serious injuries goes way up. Football in shorts will be replaced by football in pads. Late July and early August is soft tissue season and we can only hope that is as serious as it gets between now and the start of the regular season. All you can do is hope and pray that none of the players suffer a serious injury that will wipe out their entire season before it even begins.
Rookie Watch – This year’s draft class includes five defensive players and two offensive players. The team’s top three selections, cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave all have a good shot at contributing heavily on defense during their rookie seasons. While none of the three will likely wind up being a Week 1 starter, a strong training camp and preseason by each should result in them seeing the field on a regular basis sooner rather than later.
Roster Spot Battle Watch – While a good portion of the Steelers 53-man roster is already set in stone, there are a few spots available that can be won and lost over the course of the next several weeks. The battle for a fifth wide receiver spot figures to be a good one between rookie draft pick Demarcus Ayers and Eli Rogers with a few other younger players hoping to cause a stir. The battle between interior linemen Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney is worth paying close attention to as is the one between Xavier Grimble and David Johnson for what figures to be the third tight end spot on the 53. Can undrafted punter Will Monday beat out incumbent Jordan Berry? Also, the 10th linebacker and 10th defensive back spots figure to closely contested in the coming weeks and special teams play figures to have a say in both.
Final Cuts Watch – As we have seen several times through the years, the Steelers final 53-man roster might wind up including a player or two not currently on the team that they take to Latrobe. Merely making the final round of cuts is not enough as the Steelers will watch what happens around the league to see if they can improve the backend of their roster.