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.
So, it’s time to talk about all of those wide receivers. Well, not all of them. There are four names that I don’t believe we do have to talk about. Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, assuming his is fully reinstated, are locks to be the two starters. Eli Rogers and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster will share duties in the slot, and both should be safe to make the roster.
For such a deep group behind them, there is likely going to be two spots available for the rest of the field, and it should be a competitive mix. In the driver’s seat for many observers to date is likely Justin Hunter, signed during free agency, who spent a lot of times with the first-team offense with Bryant not practicing and Smith-Schuster missing most of the first week of practices.
But the supremely talented athlete is not a lock to make the roster yet, and the fact that he has played four snaps on special teams over the course of his four seasons in the NFL is a big reason why. His primary competitors for those two remaining roster spots all figure to be contributors on special teams.
Chief among them is inevitably Darrius Heyward-Bey, who would qualify for their special teams captain if that role were not already capably filled. But he is now the best gunner on the team and plays a crucial role in kick coverage with his blazing speed.
Following suit is Sammie Coates, who is seemingly nearing a return from minor knee surgery. Despite injuring his hand early on last season, he played extensively on special teams and legitimately showed some progress and potential in that capacity.
Of note has to be Demarcus Ayers, who could be in play as a returner, but he has also gotten the attention of his coaches for his receiving ability.
This appears to be the core group as others have fallen behind. Cobi Hamilton has been a disappointment in his second camp with the Steelers and is comfortably outside the bubble. Marcus Tucker and Canaan Severin would quite frankly need to have Victor Cruz-like preseasons to have any hope of making the roster—or even the practice squad—at this point.