The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a transition period on the defensive side of the football. They saw long-time impact players in Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retire this offseason and they must now attempt to replace the former defensive leaders. As a result, they’ll rely heavily on young guys in 2015 as they make wholesale changes on defense.
Obviously when you have a plethora of young players coming in, you are going to have some battles for playing time. This should make camp extremely interesting this year as we find out which young guys can help in the future.
Let’s look at some of the most important battles heading into training camp.
To say the Steelers’ cornerback situation is unstable heading into training camp would be an understatement. Beyond William Gay, they really have no guarantees for any of the cornerbacks on the roster. Just about every one of them could either be a starting corner, or completely cut by camp’s end.
Ideally, the Steelers would like Cortez Allen to step up and take control of a starting job. They expected him to be a key component of their defense for years to come last offseason when they gave him a five-year, $26 million contact extension. Unfortunately, he disappointed greatly last year and eventually found himself on the inactive list at the end of the season.
If Allen can’t improve from his 2014 campaign, they’ll look to one of the rookies to step up. They selected Senquez Golson and Doran Grant in the draft this year and big things are expected from the two rookies. They’ll certainly get an early opportunity if Allen doesn’t look good in camp.
This will be one of the most interesting battles in all of football, as the Steelers look to find their next starting cornerback.
The safety position is also in transition this year with the departure of Troy Polamalu. He manned the secondary for the last 12 years and he will certainly be hard to replace.
Originally, the task of replacing Polamalu is expected to go to third year safety Shamarko Thomas. Although Pittsburgh is high on the talents of Thomas, he has played sparingly during his two years in the league and his ability to be a NFL starting safety is still unknown. That being said, the Steelers will certainly be looking for backup plans during training camp.
In particular, veteran Will Allen and rookie Gerod Holliman will look to challenge Thomas in 2015.
Allen has been the constant professional during his time with Pittsburgh. He has provided them with consistent play and he provides a nice insurance plan. Holliman on the other hand is laced with potential, but his youth and size lead to some questioning. Last season he led the NCAA in interceptions with Louisville and he has a knack for finding the ball.
The situation at outside linebacker for the Steelers is a very tricky one heading into 2015. Really no one is guaranteed a spot entering training camp and there are four guys who could conceivable take starting spots.
The competition will be between James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and rookie Bud Dupree.
Of the four, you have to imagine Harrison is assured of some playing time, but at age 37 he certainly can’t be relied on in an every-down capacity as he was in the past. Pittsburgh would really like him to assume a mentor role with the young linebackers, while being an impactful contributor.
Ideally, Dupree would rotate with Harrison and eventually force his way into the starting lineup through excellent play. The Steelers are very excited about Dupree’s potential after taking him in the first round of this year’s draft, but until he gets his first true NFL game action, his impact will be unknown.
The ultimate X-factor of the unit is Jarvis Jones.
After a stellar college career, Jones was labeled as one of the best linebackers in the 2013 draft. His 28 sacks in two years at Georgia had scouts drooling over his potential and eventually led to the Steelers drafting him with the 17th pick in the draft.
Unfortunately, Jones’ career thus far has been underwhelming, to say the least. He has just three quarterback sacks in two seasons with the Steelers and has been dominated by opposing tackles.
Now, if Jones can turn it around and show signs of his former pass rushing ability, then the Steelers will have a really good player for the foreseeable future. If not, they have veteran Arthur Moats just in case.