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.
When it comes to the defensive line, the Steelers actually have a surprising amount of uncertainty—but not in the bad way. Entering the 2017 season, the defense finally has enough talent available to them that they will have some decisions to make about who will assume what role, and even who will be able to make the 53-man roster.
We have already talked about the plight of fourth-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers and the struggles that he will face in trying to make the roster again, but today I want to focus more specifically on a role rather than the group as a whole, and that is, the first lineman off the bench.
There are three primary candidates for this role, those being namely Javon Hargrave, the second-year former third-round pick; Tyson Alualu, a veteran signing in free agency; and L.T. Walton, who impressed down the stretch during necessary playing time last season.
It would seem on the surface that Alualu is most likely to be the first lineman off the bench, at least when the team is in their 3-4 front, because it was he who assumed the left defensive end role in practice a couple of days ago when Stephon Tuitt was unable to finish out the day with a minor ailment.
But I would not say that position is locked up already. Walton has been given valuable reps over the course of the spring as well, and one also has to consider the fact that the team’s primary package is the nickel, with two down linemen.
I would think that that strengthens the cases of both Walton and Hargrave, the latter being their starting nose tackle, but an agile one whom the Steelers will be counting upon to be a rotational mainstay in their nickel defense this year.
Hargrave will of course get his playing time, but I will be interested to see Walton and Alualu face off to claim ownership of this role, and of the snaps that will be left over. Either way, it’s a good problem to finally have.