As the calendar has finally hit the late-July date that signals the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we turn our attentions for the next few weeks to just that, training camp, the necessary respite for all football fans who have been the past six weeks wondering what to do with themselves—as least as far as the game goes.
With the start of training camp also comes the start of meaningful competition, and I’m not just talking about players getting to put on pads and smash into each other. There are battles to be won. Position battles, roster battles. Battles for starting jobs.
Before we get too deep into the swing of training camp, here is a quick series that provides a preview of some of the most significant battles that will have to be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason, though the regular season can always decide to change the results.
This discussion, if anything, gets a little bit more interesting now that we actually have a game under our belts. While the Steelers’ 53-man roster in terms of its offensive linemen is overwhelmingly likely to be set at this point, there figure to be two spots on the practice squad up for grabs.
A couple of days ago we talked about the potential options for that practice squad tackle role. Now we are going to take a look at the options that the Steelers have along the interior offensive line. It’s notable that they have had success bringing them in as undrafted free agents, and brought in a priority undrafted free agent there.
Just to put as fine a point as possible on it here, the path to future success as an undrafted interior lineman with the Steelers is clear. In very recent history, there have been three who came in as undrafted free agents, spent a year on the practice squad, and then made the 53-man roster, and even started games: Doug Legursky, Chris Hubbard, and B.J. Finney. Ramon Foster didn’t even have to spend a year on the practice squad and he’s still starting nine years into his career.
So we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss any names here, names like Matt Feiler, a guy who has been around for a couple of years and who has versatility inside and outside. Keavon Milton, another guy who spent time on the practice squad last year and can play inside and outside.
Kyle Friend is a guy who can play both guard and center, and has been running as the third-team center during training camp. And then there is Ethan Cooper, the rookie free agent whom the Steelers gave a (relatively) sizable signing bonus.
Cooper has frankly bene the least impressive to date. Feiler and Milton have been consistently running with the second-team offense, usually as the guard pair, but when lines get jumbled, Friend has gotten some opportunities as well. I’m sure last night’s tape upon further study will help separate wheat from chaff.