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: Who will make the final cut as the sixth wide receiver (assuming that there is one)?
The Pittsburgh Steelers carry six wide receivers on their 53-man roster more often than not, and have done so in every year for the past several. The ‘sixth’ wide receiver sometimes depends upon interpretation, because he usually plays on special teams, but then that leaves a guy like Justin Hunter, who was kept for his offensive skillset, on the inactive list.
This year, there are four definite locks to make the team in JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and rookie second-round pick Chase Claypool. I think a growing consensus is finally beginning to come to terms with the fact that Ryan Switzer is by far the most likely of the rest of the group to be retained.
That leaves one more roster spot for Deon Cain, Amara Darboh, Saeed Blacknail, Ray-Ray McCloud, and DeAndre Thompkins. If we’re placing odds, I think you can quickly eliminate Thompkins and Blacknail, the former only recently signed, and the latter only brought back after being cut when injuries arose.
Between Cain, Darboh, and McCloud, Cain has the most experience with the team, playing in six games. Darboh also has prior in-game experience as a former third-round pick but limited. McCloud has played as well, but primarily as a return man. And they can be looking for a returner.
I think the general consensus is going to be Cain, but we really haven’t heard much about him during camp. Then again, we haven’t heard much about Darboh either. And we can’t assume that they’re going to keep a return specialist with fumbling problems. Maybe they’ll only keep five on the 53-man roster and put two or three on the practice squad.