With preseason action about to kick off with the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys this Thursday, Steelers fans will finally be able to see the new additions to the team hit the field and play in a real game setting. We will finally be able to see Dwayne Haskins under center for Pittsburgh, likely taking snaps from rookie C Kendrick Green as the potential starter for the regular season upfront once the season begins. We will be able to see what Najee Harris will bring to the offense, specifically the run game. We will also be able to see rookie TE Pat Freiermuth in the passing game and see if he will be able to contribute as a blocker against NFL competition.
With so many new additions to the 2021 roster via the draft and free agency, there are plenty of question marks that need to be answered when the team takes the field over the next month. There are a lot of spots up for grabs in terms of starting roles on the roster as well as key depth pieces that will rotate in regularly with entrenched starters, seeing plenty of snaps in key situations throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Listed below are several of the positional battles that the Steelers Depot crew has been highlighting during the offseason and into training camp that we should keep an eye out for over the next few weeks:
Starting Center: Does third-round rookie Kendrick Green win the job outright over the likes of J.C. Hassenauer who is currently dealing with an injury and B.J. Finney who returns to Pittsburgh after a hectic year due to the pandemic in Seattle and Cincinnati?
Backup QB: Will Dwayne Haskins do enough during preseason action to overtake Mason Rudolph as the backup during the 2021 season? Recent reviews suggest that Haskins has looked good in training camp practices thus far, but now he will have to prove himself in live game action to have a chance to move up the depth chart.
Backup RB: Does Anthony McFarland Jr. solidify himself as the clear “lightning” to Najee Harris’s “thunder”? Who wins the feature backup role between Benny Snell Jr. and Kalen Ballage? Will Ballage show enough this preseason to finally push Jaylen Samuels off of the roster?
Defensive Line Depth: Who wins the backup nose tackle job behind Tyson Alualu? Does Carlos Davis take a step forward in Year Two, or does Isaiah Buggs show enough consistency to earn that role? Will Henry Mondeaux keep his role as a key rotational guy at NT or DE? Can Isaiahh Loudermilk do enough to earn snaps behind either Cam Heyward or Stephon Tuitt early on in the 2021 campaign? Is Chris Wormley’s spot locked behind the two entrenched starters as a classic 4-I technique?
Inside Linebacker Depth: Who establishes himself as the “next-up” guy behind Devin Bush or Robert Spillane? Does rookie Buddy Johnson progress quick enough to earn that job, or does Marcus Allen keep that role as he continues to transition from safety to linebacker? Can Ulysees Gilbert III stay healthy enough throughout the preseason to put together a string of good performances to get significant snaps in the regular season with his athleticism? Can any of these guys push Spillane for the starting gig opposite of Bush?
Nickel Corner: Does Antoine Brooks Jr. show enough competency in coverage and run support from the nickel spot in the preseason to lock down the starting gig on the inside? Will Arthur Maulet win the job based on his experience and ability to provide steady play coupled with great effort against the run and pass? Will UDFA Shakur Brown be able to make up ground in preseason action from training camp to legitimately make a case to start at the nickel?
Backup Outside Corner Depth: Does James Pierre continue to impress on the field to the point where he forces Cam Sutton back inside to lock down the boundary corner spot opposite of Joe Haden? Can Mark Gilbert or Stephen Denmark continue to impress in live game action to earn themselves a role on the regular season roster? Will Justin Layne show enough to keep his spot on the roster and keep the other guys at the position at bey?
Backup Safety Depth: Will Tre Norwood continue to make an impact in the turnover department in preseason games? Will Miles Killebrew show something on defense outside of his contributions as a special team’s ace? Can Donovan Stiner or Lamont Wade make enough of an impact to push either Killebrew or Norwood off of the roster? Will the team decide to bring in someone from the outside to improve this safety room?
Starting Punter: Will Jordan Berry be able to hold off the rookie Pressley Harvin III, or will Harvin III show improved consistency combined with the big leg to give Berry his walking papers?
Which of the positional battles listed above are most excited to watch this preseason? How do you personally see it playing out or what would you like to see Pittsburgh do at each spot? Is there another position on the roster or names excluded from above that you will have your eye on come Thursday? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!