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NKySteeler
06-07-2009, 06:23 PM
This article was posted a few days ago over on Bleacher Report...
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Position Battles at Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
by Josh Wetmore (Contributor)
May 27, 2009

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Every training camp in the NFL features one of the most individual-focused competitions in all of football—the position battle—where multiple players go head-to-head to try and earn a certain role with their team.

These battles not only shape the careers of the players involved, but shape the dynamics and ultimate success of a team.

It is up to the coaches to pick the right man for the job. If they don’t, the team will not reach its full potential.

Despite returning 20 of 22 starters, the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers have several positions battles that will dictate whether or not they can repeat as champions.

This is a brief overview of the position battles that will take place in Latrobe, Pa., this year.


Starting RCB: William Gay vs. Deshea Townsend

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Deshea Townsend played opposite Ike Taylor as the Steelers' starting right cornerback for most of his career, but last season he lost his starting spot to the younger and more athletic Bryant McFadden.

McFadden is gone and while Townsend’s tackle and passes-defensed stats significantly dropped last year, he showed he can still make a big play with his touchdown against Dallas.

Third-year player William Gay was used as a nickel and dime defensive back last year but showed a lot of ability and a ton of upside.

The former fifth round draft pick has shown significant improvement each year and after a 41 tackle season as a one-down player he might just be the second young athletic cornerback to steal the starting spot from Townsend.


Dime Cornerback: Joe Burnett vs. Keenan Lewis vs. Keiwan Ratliff

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No matter who wins the starting spot, the dime package will need a new cornerback. The Steelers spent much of their limited offseason efforts toward renewing the talent at this position.

Both Keenan Lewis, 96th overall, and, Joe Burnett, 168th overall, were drafted to fill this specific hole as well as to eventually develop into start-worthy veterans.

Just in case those two don’t pan-out, Kevin Colbert also brought in veteran Keiwan Ratliff from the Colts to contribute in coverage and push the young guys.


Second-string Quarterback: Charlie Batch vs. Dennis Dixon

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Byron Leftwich was Pittsburgh’s back-up of choice, but he was also the Buccaneers' quarterback of choice to compete for a starting spot. That leaves three passers solidified on the roster. The only question that remains is what the depth chart looks like after Big Ben.

Batch has been number two for Pittsburgh for years and while he might have a better mind for the game than some of the team’s coaches, his body isn’t as up to the task as it used to be.

On the other end of the spectrum is the brilliant NFL body that is Dennis Dixon. Dixon showed promise last year in the preseason and while his regular season experience is nonexistent it has to start somewhere.


Third and Fourth WR: Limas Sweed vs. Shaun McDonald vs. Mike Wallace

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It’s not often a Super Bowl winner has two spots open at a position as important as wide receiver.

Luckily Pittsburgh has three players who have the potential to turn this apparent weakness into a team strength.

Limas Sweed has all the physical tools an NFL receiver needs to be a star, but his blunders in the playoffs bring into question his mental toughness.

Shaun McDonald appears to be the most reliable option and has shown that he can be a solid contributor to an offense after catching 79 balls for Detroit just two years ago.

McDonald and Sweed appear to be the two front runners, but rookie third round pick Mike Wallace could pull a fast one and grab one of those spots from the hands of the two expected winners.


Starting RB: Willie Parker vs. Rashard Mendenhall

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This shouldn’t be much of a battle to start camp as "Fast" Willie Parker has won two Super Bowls as the Steelers' feature back. His production dropped a little last year and while it is possibly due to injury, it has raised questions about his position as the solidified starter.

Rashard Mendenhall is a former first round draft pick waiting to pounce on the opportunity to start if Parker doesn’t come into camp at his old Pro Bowl level.

While the depth chart is set coming into camp it will most likely remain open to change throughout the season.


DE Second Rotation: Nick Eason vs. Travis Kirschke vs. Evander Hood

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most liberal defensive line rotations in the NFL.

While the starting three and the backup Nose Tackle spots are all basically set in stone, the second rotation at defensive end is wide open.

Travis Kirschke is sure to be part of the rotation, as he has been for the last five years, but how much time he sees as he ages depends on the development of last year's pleasant surprise, Nick Eason, and 2009 first round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood.


Third TE: Sean McHugh vs. Dezmond Sherrod

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If there’s a seemingly insignificant position on a team, it’s the third tight end.

Shaun McHugh won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, but Dezmond Sherrod looks like a younger, more athletic version of McHugh with more upside.

With better pass catching ability than McHugh, Sherrod can avoid the practice squad if he can prove to be a solid blocker.

mshifko
06-07-2009, 09:39 PM
the one i'm most intrigued by is the FWP vs. mendy thing...FWP will be our starter, but i'm just looking to see mendy do his thing...we should have a stacked backfield, along with mewelde/summers...

also, the dime CB situation is going to be interesting...i see keenan lewis/keiwan ratliff being the front runners for that, but it'll be interesting to see how joe burnett comes along, he's got the athleticism and i think he has some size too

steeler_fan_in_t.o.
06-07-2009, 11:24 PM
How about the OL?

RG: Does our new rook Urbik have a shot at taking over the starting spot from last year's injury replacement?

RT: Is Colon firmly entranched there? Can a guy like Hills give him a run this summer?

OC: I don't expect a change here, but can Shipley or Stapleton (if he loses out at RG) give him a run?

buckeyehoppy
06-08-2009, 02:05 AM
Wetmore doesn't think there's going to be a challenge at RG? OK. I guess Darnell starts by default. Why draft Urbik in the 3rd if there's going to be no competition? It's either Urbik is going to be told to sit down, shut up and observe his rookie year or he has already blown away the coaching staff and is going to start ahead of Kemo, to whom we just gave millions of $$$.

I like Darnell. But, I'd like to think he's only penciled in to the position. I'd like to think Darnell has a chance to be a future starter at C, and the Steelers might need that if Shipley doesn't pan out.

pfelix73
06-08-2009, 10:09 AM
I seriously don't think Urbik will beat out a veteran at this point. Unless the guy is more than spectacular in camp.

The OL is pretty much set with the 5 starters coming back from last year. They need to get even more playing time together.

Urbik will give us good depth along with the other OL.

:tt1

Oviedo
06-08-2009, 10:36 AM
Wetmore doesn't think there's going to be a challenge at RG? OK. I guess Darnell starts by default. Why draft Urbik in the 3rd if there's going to be no competition? It's either Urbik is going to be told to sit down, shut up and observe his rookie year or he has already blown away the coaching staff and is going to start ahead of Kemo, to whom we just gave millions of $$$.

I like Darnell. But, I'd like to think he's only penciled in to the position. I'd like to think Darnell has a chance to be a future starter at C, and the Steelers might need that if Shipley doesn't pan out.

I know that Darnell filled in well last year but as the season went on he was clearly the weakpoint in the OL. That came through in spades in the play offs. maybe the year of experience will help him but I really see Urbik challenging him for the starting position.

RuthlessBurgher
06-08-2009, 12:21 PM
Wetmore doesn't think there's going to be a challenge at RG? OK. I guess Darnell starts by default. Why draft Urbik in the 3rd if there's going to be no competition? It's either Urbik is going to be told to sit down, shut up and observe his rookie year or he has already blown away the coaching staff and is going to start ahead of Kemo, to whom we just gave millions of $$$.

I like Darnell. But, I'd like to think he's only penciled in to the position. I'd like to think Darnell has a chance to be a future starter at C, and the Steelers might need that if Shipley doesn't pan out.

I know that Darnell filled in well last year but as the season went on he was clearly the weakpoint in the OL. That came through in spades in the play offs. maybe the year of experience will help him but I really see Urbik challenging him for the starting position.

:Agree

I think Stapleton could be valuable as a versatile utility lineman to have as a backup like Trai Essex, but I would prefer not to have him as a starter unless someone gets injured. I see starter's potential in Urbik, but we will have to wait until Latrobe to see if he can fulfill that potential as a rookie. It will likely have to be in the preseason games, because all reports are that he is much better in actual games than he looks in position drills.

JUST-PLAIN-NASTY
06-08-2009, 02:01 PM
I really don't see Urbik not getting on the field unless he struggles with assignments. That would be a surprise in itself because he is a smart kid. I would be shocked if Urbik wasn't starting this year at some point. If he sees the field, he will develop into the Steelers best G by years end. Talent finds the field as long as the mental part of the game is realized. Urbik has plenty of nature abillities and intelligence not to beat out any of the G's on this roster. The only person that will keep Urbik out of the starting group is Urbik. I don't think the rookie tag will keep his talent on the bench. Kemo & Urbik are the 2 best G's on the roster based on ability.

Slapstick
06-08-2009, 03:50 PM
The fact that Urbik is so big is also important to the future of the OL...

Right now, the Centers of the future are Stapleton or Shipley, considering that Hartwig is in the last year of his contract...

The Center position is the one position on the OL that is consistently assigned a double team...with the huge @$$ NTs in the AFC North, either Shipley or Stapleton would most likely need help handling them on a regular basis...having your C flanked by two huge, road grading OGs is a plus...especially if your C is mobile and can pull...

NKySteeler
06-08-2009, 05:31 PM
I really don't see Urbik not getting on the field unless he struggles with assignments. That would be a surprise in itself because he is a smart kid. I would be shocked if Urbik wasn't starting this year at some point. If he sees the field, he will develop into the Steelers best G by years end. Talent finds the field as long as the mental part of the game is realized. Urbik has plenty of nature abillities and intelligence not to beat out any of the G's on this roster. The only person that will keep Urbik out of the starting group is Urbik. I don't think the rookie tag will keep his talent on the bench. Kemo & Urbik are the 2 best G's on the roster based on ability.

While I do agree basically with your statement, I do think it is awful hard to say Urbik's success in college will AUTOMATICALLY translate to instant success in the NFL... While I think it will eventually, I'm not sure whether or not it will right out of the gate... Obviously there is nothing to prove it either way, but historically we all know that rookies don't usually get alot of playing time... Guess we'll see... I like the pick, and hope it pans out because we have a long way to go to re-build this OL to that of past lines in the performance category...

Yea, that's right.... I'm one that doesn't believe coming together for a few games down the stretch solves all the problems... How many times did Ben end-up on his butt? Not even a third of those were due to his "style" (as some folks like to call it)... The line is going to be a problem, and if it's not, then I will gladly eat my words... Each and every one of them...

Either way, Urbik has potential.... I don't want to rule-out Hills showing something for the future as well, but we'll have to wait and see on that as well, I guess.

pfelix73
06-09-2009, 09:28 AM
It's gonna take him a few years to get acclimated to the next level. He may be a good OG down the road, but I'd be surprised if he finds the starting lineup anywhere close to at least the mid to latter stage of this season.

Although I think Stapleton was the weak link along the OL last season, the cohesiveness of all 5 of those OL that started last year will be the important thing starting out 2009. Injuries, however, could always change things. I look for Essex to get some time at G too.

Urbik will be a good backup for the time being.

:tt1

JUST-PLAIN-NASTY
06-09-2009, 09:46 AM
I really don't see Urbik not getting on the field unless he struggles with assignments. That would be a surprise in itself because he is a smart kid. I would be shocked if Urbik wasn't starting this year at some point. If he sees the field, he will develop into the Steelers best G by years end. Talent finds the field as long as the mental part of the game is realized. Urbik has plenty of nature abillities and intelligence not to beat out any of the G's on this roster. The only person that will keep Urbik out of the starting group is Urbik. I don't think the rookie tag will keep his talent on the bench. Kemo & Urbik are the 2 best G's on the roster based on ability.

While I do agree basically with your statement, I do think it is awful hard to say Urbik's success in college will AUTOMATICALLY translate to instant success in the NFL... While I think it will eventually, I'm not sure whether or not it will right out of the gate... Obviously there is nothing to prove it either way, but historically we all know that rookies don't usually get alot of playing time... Guess we'll see... I like the pick, and hope it pans out because we have a long way to go to re-build this OL to that of past lines in the performance category...

Yea, that's right.... I'm one that doesn't believe coming together for a few games down the stretch solves all the problems... How many times did Ben end-up on his butt? Not even a third of those were due to his "style" (as some folks like to call it)... The line is going to be a problem, and if it's not, then I will gladly eat my words... Each and every one of them...

Either way, Urbik has potential.... I don't want to rule-out Hills showing something for the future as well, but we'll have to wait and see on that as well, I guess.

I'm not worried about the OL. I wasn't worried last year and I believe this group will make strides again regardless if it is Urbik at RG or Stapleton. Offensive lineman can see the field early and it has been no different with the Steelers on that account. I like Urbik but I will tell you this about him. He has the potential to be a pro-bowl G in the NFL. He may never be more than a back-up RT at this level. That is my evaluation. On this team, his potential talent exceeds and other G. Out of the gate, he is probably the 3rd best run blocker on the OL behind Kemo & Colon. Stapleton might have better feet than Urbik in pass blocking...but if Urbik is tucked inside at G his punch & arm length will make him excel. Urbik is "hands down" better than Stapleton at the point of attack and will make a difference in the interior run game. He is very good on the second level and I can't wait until I see Urbik meet Ray Lewis. Urbik is very smart and durable. Those traits alone tell me that once he gets the mental part of the offense down he will see the field. I also like Stapleton. He did add some bulk last season and seemed to keep his footwork with the added weight. He is headed in the right direction. He needs to play around 315-320 with added strength to play C. He is a little weak at the point of attack to play C and is more of a guard right now. But like I said, he is headed in the right direction. The one thing that seperates elite Cs in this league is the ability to handle a DT gap playside. The greats, like Webster, Dawson, & even a young Hartings, could execute a reach block on a NT/DT who was lined up gap playside by themselves. In comparrison, a solid C would still need a rub from a G and not allow penetration while getting his angle. The difference between the two is when you could reach the DT by yourself, the playside G could either pull or get to the LB before he has time to step up or get his angle on the ball. Just watch some old games of what Dawson or Hartings allowed their Gs to do during a run play when they could do this. When the G has to help out & rub the DT, sometimes this delay of the G to the 2nd level allowed the LB to step up and close the hole by creating a pile or the LB got his angle and didn't allow the G to get a hand on him. The 2nd scenario should sound familiar to our current run game. Hartwig could still hold his own after a G rub but the Gs aren't getting to the 2nd level all the time because of this. Stapleton's feet "could" allow him to get his angles at C but he needs to bulk up to hold his own. He's not a finished product yet but he isn't where he needs to be to play C...yet. He could very well just be a G and never get there but we will see if he added some weight & strength again and how he plays with the added weight. I still believe Urbik sees the field this year. OL is one of the more readable transitions positions in the NFL if the prospect plays against top competition. When you look in the trenches on gamefilm against other NFL prospects...You can get a good idea of what you will see. Playbook, gameplan, & scheme don't have much impact on a player when you line him up and tell him to "punch the guy in the mouth".

Oviedo
06-09-2009, 10:11 AM
[quote="JUST-PLAIN-NASTY":2btudtml]I really don't see Urbik not getting on the field unless he struggles with assignments. That would be a surprise in itself because he is a smart kid. I would be shocked if Urbik wasn't starting this year at some point. If he sees the field, he will develop into the Steelers best G by years end. Talent finds the field as long as the mental part of the game is realized. Urbik has plenty of nature abillities and intelligence not to beat out any of the G's on this roster. The only person that will keep Urbik out of the starting group is Urbik. I don't think the rookie tag will keep his talent on the bench. Kemo & Urbik are the 2 best G's on the roster based on ability.

While I do agree basically with your statement, I do think it is awful hard to say Urbik's success in college will AUTOMATICALLY translate to instant success in the NFL... While I think it will eventually, I'm not sure whether or not it will right out of the gate... Obviously there is nothing to prove it either way, but historically we all know that rookies don't usually get alot of playing time... Guess we'll see... I like the pick, and hope it pans out because we have a long way to go to re-build this OL to that of past lines in the performance category...

Yea, that's right.... I'm one that doesn't believe coming together for a few games down the stretch solves all the problems... How many times did Ben end-up on his butt? Not even a third of those were due to his "style" (as some folks like to call it)... The line is going to be a problem, and if it's not, then I will gladly eat my words... Each and every one of them...

Either way, Urbik has potential.... I don't want to rule-out Hills showing something for the future as well, but we'll have to wait and see on that as well, I guess.

I'm not worried about the OL. I wasn't worried last year and I believe this group will make strides again regardless if it is Urbik at RG or Stapleton. Offensive lineman can see the field early and it has been no different with the Steelers on that account. I like Urbik but I will tell you this about him. He has the potential to be a pro-bowl G in the NFL. He may never be more than a back-up RT at this level. That is my evaluation. On this team, his potential talent exceeds and other G. Out of the gate, he is probably the 3rd best run blocker on the OL behind Kemo & Colon. Stapleton might have better feet than Urbik in pass blocking...but if Urbik is tucked inside at G his punch & arm length will make him excel. Urbik is "hands down" better than Stapleton at the point of attack and will make a difference in the interior run game. He is very good on the second level and I can't wait until I see Urbik meet Ray Lewis. Urbik is very smart and durable. Those traits alone tell me that once he gets the mental part of the offense down he will see the field. I also like Stapleton. He did add some bulk last season and seemed to keep his footwork with the added weight. He is headed in the right direction. He needs to play around 315-320 with added strength to play C. He is a little weak at the point of attack to play C and is more of a guard right now. But like I said, he is headed in the right direction. The one thing that seperates elite Cs in this league is the ability to handle a DT gap playside. The greats, like Webster, Dawson, & even a young Hartings, could execute a reach block on a NT/DT who was lined up gap playside by themselves. In comparrison, a solid C would still need a rub from a G and not allow penetration while getting his angle. The difference between the two is when you could reach the DT by yourself, the playside G could either pull or get to the LB before he has time to step up or get his angle on the ball. Just watch some old games of what Dawson or Hartings allowed their Gs to do during a run play when they could do this. When the G has to help out & rub the DT, sometimes this delay of the G to the 2nd level allowed the LB to step up and close the hole by creating a pile or the LB got his angle and didn't allow the G to get a hand on him. The 2nd scenario should sound familiar to our current run game. Hartwig could still hold his own after a G rub but the Gs aren't getting to the 2nd level all the time because of this. Stapleton's feet "could" allow him to get his angles at C but he needs to bulk up to hold his own. He's not a finished product yet but he isn't where he needs to be to play C...yet. He could very well just be a G and never get there but we will see if he added some weight & strength again and how he plays with the added weight. I still believe Urbik sees the field this year. OL is one of the more readable transitions positions in the NFL if the prospect plays against top competition. When you look in the trenches on gamefilm against other NFL prospects...You can get a good idea of what you will see. Playbook, gameplan, & scheme don't have much impact on a player when you line him up and tell him to "punch the guy in the mouth".[/quote:2btudtml]

Great read thanks. Since you seem to understand the OL play, what are your thoughts on Shipley and Legursky versus Stapleton because I'm not sure Stapleton can add much more weight. He simply got overpowered last year. I see him as another Mahan. Of the three we have now behind Hartwig only Legursky seems to have the bulk you would like at Center.

phillyesq
06-09-2009, 10:12 AM
Count me among those who thinks that Urbick will not start the season at RG. I think that there is a good possibility that he finishes the season as the starting RG, but I would be shocked to see him as a week 1 starter. Very few rookies have come in to the Steelers as week 1 starters, but a few have worked themselves into at least a time share of a starting role by the end of their rookie seasons.

Especially with Urbick/Stapelton, a midseason transition makes a lot of sense. Stapelton seemed to wear down as the season went on. If he wears down again this season, it will probably come at about the same time that Urbick is starting to pick things up.

RuthlessBurgher
06-09-2009, 10:20 AM
Count me among those who thinks that Urbick will not start the season at RG. I think that there is a good possibility that he finishes the season as the starting RG, but I would be shocked to see him as a week 1 starter. Very few rookies have come in to the Steelers as week 1 starters, but a few have worked themselves into at least a time share of a starting role by the end of their rookie seasons.

Especially with Urbick/Stapelton, a midseason transition makes a lot of sense. Stapelton seemed to wear down as the season went on. If he wears down again this season, it will probably come at about the same time that Urbick is starting to pick things up.

I think it is even more unlikely that he would suddenly be inserted at midseason (unless there is an injury, of course). Because of the cohesion that is needed along the o-line, it is exceedingly rare for a performance-related change to be made along the line in the middle of a season. I think whoever wins the battle coming out of camp will keep the job for the full season, except in case of injury.

stlrz d
06-09-2009, 11:02 AM
Just Plain Nasty - nice write up, but just one word of advice to make things easier for your readers.

Paragraphs.

:) :P

phillyesq
06-09-2009, 11:19 AM
Count me among those who thinks that Urbick will not start the season at RG. I think that there is a good possibility that he finishes the season as the starting RG, but I would be shocked to see him as a week 1 starter. Very few rookies have come in to the Steelers as week 1 starters, but a few have worked themselves into at least a time share of a starting role by the end of their rookie seasons.

Especially with Urbick/Stapelton, a midseason transition makes a lot of sense. Stapelton seemed to wear down as the season went on. If he wears down again this season, it will probably come at about the same time that Urbick is starting to pick things up.

I think it is even more unlikely that he would suddenly be inserted at midseason (unless there is an injury, of course). Because of the cohesion that is needed along the o-line, it is exceedingly rare for a performance-related change to be made along the line in the middle of a season. I think whoever wins the battle coming out of camp will keep the job for the full season, except in case of injury.

In the past, the Steelers have broken in players at RG midseason. IIRC, Kendall Simmons took over the starting RG spot at midseason, and going farther back, I believe that Brendan Stai took over midseason as well.

Cohesion is needed on the oline, but a midseason switch at RG still gives the line time to come together before the postseason.