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Training Camp: Position Battles

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With Training Camp starting July 25th, there are several position battles to keep an eye on. Notably, starting spots are up for grabs at receiver, left tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker and possibly even cornerback. Here’s a look at the competitors at each spot.

Wide Receiver
With the departures of Emmanuel Sanders to the Broncos and Jerricho Cotchery to the Panthers, the spot opposite to Antonio Brown is wide open.

Coming off a disappointing and injury plagued rookie campaign, Markus Wheaton is the top competitor for the spot. Wheaton appeared in 12 games last year, catching just 6 passes for 64 yards. He missed four games with a hand injury, on which he had surgery on this offseason. The 5’11” Wheaton is fast and shifty. With a year in the system, his main improvements need to come in his hands and route running.

Wheaton’s competition comes in rookie Martavis Bryant of Clemson. Bryant possesses great physical tools, standing at 6’4’’, with excellent speed (4.42 40 at the combine). However, Bryant’s hands are extremely inconsistent and his route running is raw and stiff.

Besides Bryant, the other top candidate is free agent signee Lance Moore. Although Moore is a more viable candidate than Bryant, the team likely prefers for him to start at slot receiver, similar to the role Cotchery played last year.

Projected Starter: Wheaton
Second Option: Moore
Dark Horse Scenario: Bryant is too raw right now, but his ceiling is high and if he progresses quickly, he could eventually win the job. Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey has all the tools but hasn’t lived up to his potential during stints with the Raiders and Colts. Second-year man Justin Brown was one of the surprise stars of OTAs.

Left Tackle
This spot is Kelvin Beachum's going into training camp, but it’s certainly possible that changes as the exhibition season unfoldsSteelers Mike Adams. The Steelers offense greatly improved during the second half of last season, and the offensive line was a huge factor. Beachum was a substantial part of the improvement, using his athleticism, savvy and physicality to his advantage.

Mike Adams is Beachum’s main competitor. At 6’7” 323 lbs., Adams provides ideal size for the position and still has the most potential of anyone on the roster. Adams, heading into his third season, hasn’t shown the necessary technique or strength to be a quality starter, though. During an interview with NEPA Sports Radio, offensive line coach Mike Munchak declared, “[Kelvin] Beachum and [Marcus] Gilbert are our two tackles.”

Projected Starter: Beachum
Second Option: Adams
Dark Horses Scenario: Gilbert is much better on the right side, but Tomlin has been known to switch tackles in the past and the team will do what is necessary to get their best two on the field together.

Defensive End
Who will start opposite Cameron Heyward? Second round pick Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame is easily the most talented competitor. At 6’ 5”, Tuitt is a big end, Steeelers Cam Thomasthough he possesses great quickness and athleticism for his size. The Steelers signed veteran Cam Thomas over the offseason, and he’s Tuitt’s main competitor. During his four-year career with the Chargers, the 330-pound Thomas mostly played nose tackle, but the Steelers stated they plan to use him at defensive end.

Projected Starter: Thomas
Second Option: Tuitt
Dark Horse Scenario: If Thomas shows the ability to man the middle of the line, it’s possible that nose tackle Steve McLendon could move to end, where he may be better suited.

Inside Linebacker
The Steelers don’t typically like to start rookies, though first round pick Ryan Shazier appears to be an exception. Shazier, who runs a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, Steelers Ryan Shazieris a tremendous physical talent who will become one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL. Along with his speed, Shazier is a sure tackler with great instincts and the ability to effectively drop back in coverage.

Vince Williams started 11 games last year after Larry Foote got injured, and he’s Shazier’s central competitor. Williams started out of necessity, and though he held his own, he didn’t show much in the way of star potential. He has the experience and knows the defense, but can that trump Shazier’s pure talent?

Projected Starter: Shazier
Second Option: Williams
Dark Horse Scenario: Former third-round pick Sean Spence is still working to overcome a career-threatening injury suffered two years ago, but has worked his way back onto the field.

Cortez Allen is probably the Steelers’ new No. 1 corner, having passed veteran Ike Taylor. The second spot, in fact, could be up for grabs between Taylor Steeelers William Gayand William Gay. At 34 years old and coming off the worst season of his career, there are questions if Taylor can start anymore. The veteran appeared to lose a step, as he was routinely beaten by his opposition last year.

Though he’s been predominantly a nickel corner during his career, Gay could compete for the spot opposite Allen. Gay has gotten a lot of flack from Steelers’ fans throughout his career, but he’s solid against the run and in nickel packages. But therein lies the problem. Can Gay handle the responsibility of a starter?

Projected Starter: Taylor
Second Option: Gay
Dark Hose Scenario: Veteran Brice McCain, second-year player Antwon Blake and rookie Shaquille Richardson of Arizona provide the team with bodies in case Taylor’s level of play has dropped off significantly.

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