The Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe for training camp on Friday and the team will take the field on Saturday. Here is a look at four key training camp battles that will take place over the coming weeks on the defensive side of the football.
Nick Williams versus Brian Arnfelt
If veteran defensive end Brett Keisel isn’t ultimately re-signed, Williams and Arnfelt will more than likely be battling for one spot on the final 53 man roster. Williams, the Steelers seventh-round draft pick last year, had his rookie season wiped out by a knee injury suffered late in training camp while Arnfelt, who was signed last year as an undrafted free agent spent most of 2013 on the practice squad before finally being promoted to the active roster late in the season. At worst, both players will likely be completing for a spot on the practice squad this year.
Hebron Fangupo versus Daniel McCullers
The odds are good that the Steelers will likely want to keep an extra nose tackle on their 53 man roster this year just as they did last season. While he didn’t see the field much in 2013, Fangupo was the No. 3 last season behind starter Steve McLendon and the versatile Al Woods. Woods is gone now, but has been replaced by Cam Thomas, who is penciled in right now to start at one defensive end spot. McCullers, one of two sixth-round draft picks this year, is just as raw as he is big. Fangupo, however, just turned 29 and doesn’t have much, if any, long-term upside.
Sean Spence versus Sean Spence
It might sound funny, but Spence is truly battling himself for a spot on the Steelers 53 man roster this year. The former third-round draft pick has missed the last two seasons after suffering a very serious knee injury during the final preseason game of his rookie season, but is now presumably healthy and ready to resume his career. While Spence managed to make it through all of the offseason practices without any issues, the true test as to whether or not he is still the player that he once was will take place once the pads go on. Should he be able to pick up where he left off in August of 2012, he’ll easily make the final 53 man roster. If he’s lost a step, however, it could result in him being out of football for good.
Shaquille Richardson versus Brice McCain versus Isaiah Green
If things play out like I think they will, the Steelers will only keep five true cornerbacks this year because of the position flexibility that safeties Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden both have. Should that indeed be the case, Richardson, one of two fifth-round draft picks this year, must beat out the undersized McCain and the unproven Green for the fifth and final cornerback spot. One would think that Richardson has a huge advantage in this battle due to his size and long-term potential, but he has to prove it during the preseason. In addition, he needs to make his mark immediately on special teams.