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.
While looking ahead and attempting to project the Steelers’ 53-man roster, I find it exceedingly difficult to find a place for any more than eight men along the offensive line, and, frankly, it appears as though those eight men are already set.
Behind starters Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers are overwhelmingly likely to carry into the season the following three reserve linemen, who of whom started a combined six games in 2016: B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, and 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins.
Because of Hubbard’s flexibility in being able to play any position along the offensive line—although I cautioned the team yesterday not to ignore his need to get some reps along the interior this summer, particularly at center—they can get away with only eight linemen while preserving an extra roster spot for a deeper group.
Hubbard and Hawkins will serve as the 53-man roster depth at tackle. But they will still need another tackle capable offensive lineman to carry on the practice squad—two offensive linemen in total, to construct two five-player offensive lines, of course.
Because so many of the Reserve/Future offensive linemen who are in camp are forced to flex their versatility, it may well be that somebody who is capable of playing both inside and outside gets the ‘tackle’ roster spot, such as Matt Feiler and Keavon Milton, both of whom were on the practice squad a year ago.
Another option is Brian Mihalik, who spent time on the 53-man roster last season due to the number of injuries the Steelers had along the line, but he has not been garnering a lot of positive press. That could leave the door open for Jake Rodgers to sneak in, a player who, like Milton, has some prior NFL experience on practice squads with other teams.