It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first breaths of the 2018 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and restructures to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Up for Grabs: No. 5-6 depth
In the Mix: Brian Allen, Coty Sensabaugh, Dashaun Phillips, Trey Johnson
The Steelers sure like their cornerbacks, and they are currently deeper at the position than they normally are. By the end of the 2017 season, they actually finished the campaign with seven players at the position on the 53-man roster, while still retaining one on the practice squad.
It’s a virtual certainty that that won’t happen again, but the team does have to figure out whether they are going to carry five cornerbacks this year or six. The main reason that this has become a question is the fact that they revamped their safety position this offseason and seem likely to carry five players at the position after signing two in free agency and adding another two in the draft.
The typical number of total defensive backs for the Steelers is 10, though in days past they have gotten by with nine. In an increasingly passing-oriented league, and perhaps with an eye toward more dime defense, it wouldn’t be a shock by any means if the Steelers tried to fit 11 defensive backs, however.
Of the group listed above, Coty Sensabaugh is clearly the most experienced, but he had an opportunity to contribute last season and struggled. He fell so far on the depth chart that he was a healthy scratch by the end of the season in spite of the fact that he previously contributed on special teams.
I have a hard time imagining Brian Allen not making the roster, and if they do keep five, he likely will be number five. The second-year player essentially redshirted in terms of learning how to play defense but made himself useful by contributing on special teams. He played a key role on multiple units by the end of the season.
Dashaun Phillips was the player on the practice squad, but he has in-game experience in the past, and would be a fit in the slot. He is a special teams contributor as well. He was acquired late, so perhaps a full offseason can get him back on a 53. As for Trey Johnson, well, he has his work cut out for him.