The Pittsburgh Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe on Wednesday and shortly thereafter the battles will begin on the fields of Saint Vincent College that will wind up shaping exactly how the 53 man roster will look. Over the last month I have taken a look at the individual position roster battles that will take place and this post now will serve as what I deem to be the nine most exciting battles to watch position wise.
Max Starks Versus Mike Adams – Starks, who was signed back to the roster just last week, is still not completely recovered from his torn ACL that he suffered in the AFC Wildcard game and will thus begin camp on the Active PUP list. Adams, the Steelers second round draft pick from this past April, will be given every opportunity early on in camp to win the starting left tackle spot as Starks finishes up his rehab and ramps up his conditioning. Should Adams stumble early on, and Starks is ready by week 1, the Steelers will likely have no choice but to let the veteran at least start the season until Adams is groomed more.
Keenan Lewis Versus Cortez Allen – Lewis figures to open up camp as the starter opposite Ike Taylor. Last year he saw extensive playing time in sub-packages at the left outside cornerback position as William Gay was kicked inside to the nickel spot when that happened. Allen, the Steelers fourth round draft pick last April, was able to see the field some his rookie season mostly in dime and big nickel packages and showed promise. Make no mistake that this is Lewis\’ job to lose though and Allen has his work cut out for him, as he figures to be the starting nickel corner initially.
Jonathan Dwyer Versus John Clay – Dwyer, the Steelers sixth round draft pick in 2010, has been chided in the past for his lack of ability to stay in shape. He figures to fix that this year after working out this offseason down in south Florida with the likes of Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons. Dwyer appeared to have turned the corner last year with his ability to both recognize and pick up the blitz in his limited playing time as he looks to become the backup to Isaac Redman as the teams power back to start the season. Clay, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last season, played well in his very limited playing time at the end of last season and will try to make Dwyer, who is believed to be no longer eligible for the practice squad, expendable. It figures to be an either or with this two and the only way both can make the 53 man roster is if Baron Batch is unable to overcome his knee injury that forced him to miss his entire rookie season.
Baron Batch Versus Knee – Batch, the Steelers seventh round draft pick from last year, was the buzz of training camp before tearing his ACL just prior to the start of the 2011 preseason. With that injury now almost a year behind him now, the Texas Tech product was able to ditch his no contact jersey during minicamp last month and appears ready to compete again in training camp. The Steelers likely envision Batch as their third down and change of pace back this year now that Mewelde Moore is gone and the biggest competition that he figures to have looks to come from his own surgically repaired knee. While many will point to rookie Chris Raney as his main competition, I don\’t, as Rainey isn\’t half the blocker that Batch is. Rainey will make to roster regardless of what Batch does as multi use player.
Al Woods Versus Corbin Bryant – Should nose tackle Casey Hampton start the 2012 season on the Steelers 53 man roster, there figures to be only one roster spot open for a defensive end and that spot looks to be a battle between Woods and Bryant. Although Woods never saw action on the defensive side of the ball after being claimed off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks, he held onto a roster spot the remainder of the year. Bryant, an undrafted free agent from last year, spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. He was promoted for the game against Arizona Cardinals and did see the field for a small amount of plays. Woods does not have practice squad eligibility left, while Bryant does, so the Northwestern product must beat out Woods cleanly to warrant the Steelers releasing Woods. There is a slim chance that both could make the 53 man roster should Hampton wind up starting the season on the Reserve PUP list.
Brandon Johnson Versus Chris Carter & Stevenson Sylvester – Johnson was a very late add in the offseason. His addition could very well signal that Jason Worilds is behind in his rehab from offseason wrist surgery or that the Steelers want Johnson him to push both Carter and Sylvester. Johnson has flexibility to play both inside and outside, but reports suggest that he has been asked to bulk up a bit and will initially be asked to play outside. Johnson is an exceptional special teams player to boot, an added bonus, and there is an outside chance that all three can make the roster should the Steelers decide to carry nine linebackers instead of the expected eight out of training camp.
Terrence Frederick Versus Terry Carter – Depending on whether or not the Steelers decide to keep five or six cornerbacks out of camp, we could see a great battle between Frederick and Carter, both rookies, for a fifth cornerback spot on the roster. Frederick, one of four seventh round draft picks the Steelers had this past April, is best suited as a nickel type corner in the Steelers defense. Carter, an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech, reportedly impressed during the Steelers offseason practices in shorts. While neither is expected to see time on defense as a rookie, the one that shows the most upside and the better special teams player of the two, figures to make the roster, while the other could very well wind up on the practice squad. There is an outside chance that both could make the roster, but that would require the Steelers only keeping four safeties to start the season in Denver.
Will Allen Versus Rest Of The Field – Ryan Clark will miss week one in Denver because of his sickle cell trait and the Steelers, who normally like to carry only four safeties out of training camp, might decide they need five on the 53 man roster as a result. Allen, a Mike Tomlin guy and solid special teams contributor, will have to ward off competition from Damon Cromartie-Smith, Myron Rolle and Robert Golden, should the Steelers decide to keep only four safeties out of training camp. While many will point to the over $1.6 million that Allen will count against the salary cap as a reason to jettison Allen, that number is easy to swallow should Allen win the roster spot outright. Should the Steelers go with five safeties, Allen is a virtual lock baring an injury.
David Johnson Versus Will Johnson – With Todd Haley now installed as the offensive coordinator, comes the expectation that the Steelers offense will make use of a fullback more than they have in years past. These expectations set up a training camp battle between, David, the Steelers seventh round draft pick in 2009, and Will, an undrafted free agent from 2011, who was signed this past offseason. Playing fullback is not new for David, who has lined up in the position several times over the years. His experience at tight end, albeit mostly used as a blocking one, gives him the advantage in this battle initially. David also has dropped some weight this offseason according to reports. Will, a converted wide receiver while at West Virginia, is much quicker than David and appears to be the more fluid route runner of the two. His ability to master the blocking aspect of the fullback position could be the difference in him making the roster or not.
Previous Training Camp Roster Battle Post
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Linebackers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Long Snappers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Offensive Line
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Defensive Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Wide Receivers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Tight Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Kickers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Cornerbacks
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Safeties
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Running Backs
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Nose Tackles