With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.
Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.
Up for Grabs: Depth
In the Mix: James Pierre, Justin Layne, Shakur Brown, Mark Gilbert, Stephen Denmark, Arthur Maulet, Antoine Brooks Jr.
For completion’s sake, I’m listing everybody other than Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton. Even James Pierre, who spent all of last season on the 53-man roster as a special-teamer and has so far clearly been ahead of the rest of the outside group. He started last night’s game with Haden not playing.
Overall, he wasn’t asked to do much in-game, so didn’t have many opportunities to distinguish himself. As for Justin Layne, while he did record a forced fumble, that only came after a long completion, and overall he probably hurt himself more than helped. There were times in the game it seemed he was being targeted.
Antoine Brooks Jr. got his first in-stadium taste of being a slot defender, starting the game with the first string, and generally held up well, although he had a couple of moments he would like to have back. None as big as Arthur Maulet, who was well behind on one long catch-and-run out of the slot.
Late in the game, both Stephen Denmark and Mark Gilbert were able to make a nice play or two in coverage. Denmark in particular has been noted in recent training camp practices. As for Shakur Brown, he is carving out an edge for himself by making tackles on special teams.
At the end of the day, I don’t think that the first preseason game did a whole lot in terms of clarifying the 53-man roster relative to the cornerback position. That’s not surprising, though, and there’s still a long way to go.
The Steelers started this process after losing two starters during the offseason, so there was naturally going to be a lot of exploratory work being done, and they didn’t sign any cornerbacks in free agency, outside of the slot, Maulet, nor did they draft one, so this is very much an ongoing process.