The Pittsburgh Steelers are now training camp, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp will look much different from the norm, and a big part of that will be the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. There will be no preseason played in 2020, so the first time the Steelers take the field in 2020 will be for the season opener against the New York Giants.
Before we get there, however, there are a number of issues that are outstanding on this team, and this year’s edition of training camp will not provide the level of thoroughness that teams are normally used to in trying to answer those questions.
Questions like, what is the starting offensive line going to look like? Will it include Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor? Who will be the primary nose tackle? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Kevin Dotson’s abbreviated offseason encourage the Steelers to carry a ninth lineman?
Putting together a 53-man roster can be a delicate process. In most years, for most teams, you can probably get to about 45 or so with your eyes closed. You already know who is good enough to deserve a roster spot relative to the number of players at the position.
Where it gets tricky is at the back end of the roster, when you’re weighing the significance of depth at specific positions versus talent, as well as the likelihood of each player to be claimed off waivers. All of these factors are taken into consideration before, for example, a team chooses to carry nine offensive linemen rather than eight.
More often than not, the Steelers are a team that chooses to go with nine, and most of the recent exceptions have been due to injuries. Guys like Fred Johnson last year or Wesley Johnson in 2014 were the ninth lineman. Both of them were waived to make room at another position. both were lost off waivers.
This year, the eighth lineman figures to be Kevin Dotson, a rookie fourth-round pick, but as even David DeCastro acknowledged, this limited offseason will make it difficult for him to be ready to play. Does that then encourage the team to try to carry another lineman who has been through an offseason before, who might be more ready to take snaps?
Will their recent experiences of losing linemen off waivers make them more reluctant to cut linemen they intend to keep on the practice squad if they really like them? A large percentage of the players who chose to opt out this year were offensive or defensive linemen, so there are even more rosters with holes along the line than usual.