As the calendar has finally hit the late-July date that signals the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we turn our attentions for the next few weeks to just that, 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.
As I mentioned yesterday, there really isn’t a whole lot as far as the starting lineup is concerned that is going to be up for grabs over the course of this training camp, as the Steelers only lost one starter and there is no rookie or free agent who is imminent to emerge as a starter.
That doesn’t mean that things can’t change over the course of the season, of course. The team had three rookies starting on their defense by the end of last year, so you can never rule anything out, to be certain.
But one area that is most likely to provide some semblance of a competition for a starting spot would be slot cornerback, even though the competition might not be as ferocious as many are hoping and expecting as they dream of the day that William Gay is put out to pasture.
I wrote up an article yesterday detailing some of the positive numbers that the 10-year veteran put up last year, noting that he was one of the least-targeted cornerbacks in the entire league. His yards allowed per snap in coverage, particularly out of the slot, was also very respectable league-wide, based on the numbers from Pro Football Focus.
But that doesn’t guarantee that he is going to keep his role. It is true that he is getting older and slowing down somewhat. The Steelers are emphasizing more versatility in their coverages, which includes more man-coverage concepts, and they’ve brought in players more capable of doing that.
Rookie third-round pick Cameron Sutton could still emerge as the main competition if his quick learning curve continues. He flashed a lot during OTAs and was said to have gotten his hands on a lot of passes, which is exactly what they want.
We’re also waiting on Senquez Golson to see what he’s going to do. And there’s Mike Hilton, who could be a darkhorse. Coty Sensabaugh, the free agent signing, would be the veteran route to go, a more athletic and slightly taller model of Gay.
At a bare minimum, there will be time for these players to work with the first-team offense because Gay is going to get his rest anyway. There should be a lot of snaps for all of them throughout the preseason, so it will be exciting to see if anybody can emerge.