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Thread: On the Steelers: Offseason position battles surprisingly few

  1. #1
    Legend hawaiiansteel's Avatar
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    On the Steelers: Offseason position battles surprisingly few

    On the Steelers: Offseason position battles surprisingly few

    May 24, 2014
    By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



    Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton is one Steeler who will be fighting for a job until the season begins.

    Between the 2012 season and 2014, the Steelers will have undergone a transition they have not experienced in quite some time.

    You can find 15 different projected starters today from those regulars in 2012. General manager Kevin Colbert balked when asked after the 2013 season about the Steelers being in transition, and maybe he was correct. Transformation would be a better word.

    Yet for all those changes, there might be openings for only three starting jobs entering the first of the organized team activities, or spring practices, Tuesday on the South Side. There will be more new starters than that, such as Mike Mitchell at free safety for the departed Ryan Clark, but practical job openings to start are few.

    How can that be for a team that has weeded out so many veterans and finished 8-8 the past two seasons? The answer would be that young players were put in place before today.

    For example, the entire starting offensive line returns intact, sort of. Center Maurkice Pouncey is included even though he wasn't intact for all but the first series of the 2013 season, when he left with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. There could be competition at either tackle, but Marcus Gilbert started every game on the right last season and Kelvin Beachum started 11 games on the left after he replaced an ineffective Mike Adams. Adams has a long way to go to nudge either one from his perch.

    No, the real competition to start should come in threes: One each at defensive end, inside linebacker and wide receiver.

    That is not to say someone cannot convince the coaches between now and the regular season that he deserves to start over an incumbent -- just that there are three jobs truly open.

    Here's a look at those and others that have a small chance to develop a competition in training camp:

    Defensive end

    The Steelers lost two in free agency, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, and turned their backs on another, Brett Keisel. They signed Cam Thomas in free agency and drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round. Thomas played mostly nose tackle in San Diego and lost his starting job in the final quarter of last season. The Steelers say he can play nose tackle and end. Cameron Heyward a few weeks ago referred to him as a swing man, a backup at both spots.

    They also have inexperienced Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams at end. There's always the chance someone such as Daniel McCullers, Hebron Fangupo or Thomas could play nose tackle and put Steve McLendon into play at end.

    Our projection to start: Tuitt, and they can live with his rookie mistakes.

    Inside linebacker

    Vince Williams returns after being thrust into a starting job as a rookie after Larry Foote was knocked out for the season and Kion Wilson failed in his two starts. Terence Garvin, who started one game for the injured Williams near the end, also is present. This should be a no-brainer for coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

    Our projection to start: Rookie Ryan Shazier, and again they can live with his rookie mistakes.

    Wide receiver

    The Steelers lost three of their top four receivers in the past 14 months in Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Antonio Brown is the one constant in the new group and not a bad place to start. Everyone else is virtually new.

    The Steelers signed veteran Lance Moore in March after Moore, 30, was cut by the Saints in what appeared to be a salary dump. They also signed disappointing former Oakland first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey as a free agent. They drafted Martavis Bryant of Clemson in the fourth round.

    Returning is Markus Wheaton, their third-round pick in 2013 who caught six passes as a rookie, three in his only start against Minnesota in the fourth game of the season. He missed four games with a hand injury and had surgery after the season.

    Among others of note at the position are Derek Moye and Justin Brown.

    This is a group that needs to come up to speed quickly with Ben Roethlisberger, who pushed hard for the Steelers to re-sign Cotchery. Moore will take Cotchery's spot in the slot and it's possible he could start when they deploy two receivers. But they need someone to play that split end or "X" spot, the one formerly occupied by Wallace, then Sanders.

    Our projection for split end: Wheaton.

    Elsewhere

    Other possible competitive positions besides offensive tackle:

    There is a chance a change could occur at nose tackle, where McLendon started last season after Casey Hampton was not brought back. Thomas, Fangupo or McCullers could make a play for that job. We just do not see that happening.

    The Steelers traded their third-round choice in this year's draft in order to select safety Shamarko Thomas in 2013. It does not appear he will start in his second season because Troy Polamalu is in front of him at strong safety and Mitchell was the team's top signing in free agency to play free safety.

    There will be no competition at cornerback, where the top three are Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay. Shaquille Richardson, a fifth-rounder this year, will get an opportunity to play, but it's our contention he will not crack that top three.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/s...#ixzz32kuO7bgZ

  2. #2
    Legend hawaiiansteel's Avatar
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    Steelers' OTAs: Five players to watch

    May, 27, 2014
    By Scott Brown | ESPN.com

    PITTSBURGH -- Coach Mike Tomlin, both derisively and accurately, calls it "football in shorts."

    But the Pittsburgh Steelers' organized team activities, which start today and run through the middle of June, mark a significant step toward preparation for the 2014 season.

    Tomlin and his staff will get a chance to work with the full squad for the since time since last December.

    The players don't wear pads and there is no hitting -- hence, Tomlin's take on OTAs -- but they practice together 10 times before the mandatory minicamp that concludes the offseason.

    And it will give the coaches a chance to see how the newly signed free agents as well as the draft picks and undrafted rookies work with the returning players.

    Here are five returning players to watching during OTAs:

    WR Markus Wheaton: His position coach Richard Mann said the 2013 third-round pick has the inside track to the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. And Wheaton will have to earn it at training camp, not over the next month. But the 5-foot-11, 182-pound speedster should get extensive work with the first-team offense after playing sparingly as a rookie, and look for him to make the most of his opportunity. Wheaton has the physical skills to make a big jump in his second season, and he attached himself to veteran Jerricho Cotchery last season, showing how eager he is to learn. A finger injury sabotaged Wheaton's rookie season but his willingness to fight through it impressed Mann. "What I found out last year about Marcus was that he has good toughness," Mann said.

    OLB Jarvis Jones: The 2013 first-round pick spent the offseason getting stronger, which is one of the prerequisites to Jones making significant improvement after a trying rookie season. The former Georgia product should also play much faster now that he has a stronger grasp on the defense. What bodes well for Jones and the Steelers: the 6-2, 245-pounder recorded a career-high nine tackles in the regular-season finale when he didn't appear to be thinking as much and just playing. The Steelers need that to carry over. They don't have many other options at right outside linebacker and are counting heavily on Jones to emerge as an impact player in 2014. "I think he'll be a lot better," linebackers coach Keith Butler said.

    NT Steve McLendon: The former undrafted free agent had his ups and downs in his first full season as a starter. But defensive line coach John Mitchell expects McLendon to carve out his own identity and improve in 2014. "You have to be yourself and not worry about what you can't do," Mitchell said. "I think we are going to see Steve McLendon rather than Steve try to be Casey [Hampton] or Steve trying to be Chris [Hoke]." McLendon is big enough to clog the middle of the line, and he has shown the ability to get after the quarterback. The Steelers are considering keeping McLendon on the field when they go to their nickel defense and having the fourth-year veteran provide an inside pass rush with Cameron Heyward.

    CB Cortez Allen: It's time for Allen to establish himself as the Steelers' No. 1 cornerback after three seasons in which he has shown plenty of promise but has yet to put everything together. Ike Taylor's days of shadowing the top wide receivers are over, and the Steelers need Allen to emerge this season. A high-ankle sprain hampered Allen through the first half of last season but the Steelers have to hope that his play once he regained his starting job is a sign of what is to come. In the final four games last season, Allen twice led the Steelers' defensive backs with two passes defended and led the defensive backs with eight tackles in another contest. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the other game over the last quarter of the season. Now, the Steelers need Allen build on that.

    LB Sean Spence: It will be hard for anyone not to pull for the 2012 third-round pick and yet not watch him with bated breath. Spence has made tremendous progress while working his way back from a career-threatening knee injury that he sustained in the final preseason game of his rookie season. The reality is no one knows if Spence's knee will hold up during the grind of training camp, but OTAs should give the Steelers a gauge of where he is in his recovery. At this point, it still has to be considered a bonus if Spence can contribute in 2014. "He is such an exceptional young man and you hope that it works out for him," Butler said, "and I think it will."

    http://espn.go.com/blog/pittsburgh-s...e/jarvis-jones

  3. #3
    Legend hawaiiansteel's Avatar
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    Steelers have plenty of position battles, including the punter

    By RJ Schaffer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Markus Wheaton or Lance Moore? Stephon Tuitt or Cam Thomas? Marcus Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum? Here’s a new one: Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh?

    In the midst of new receivers, linebackers and linemen, the punter has become almost an afterthought when it comes to position battles for the Steelers in 2014.

    But now, for the first time in what seems like a longer wait than for outfielder Gregory Polanco to be called up to the Pirates, the Steelers finally might have stability at a position that has been a merry-go-round.

    Brad Wing, one of two punters on the roster, said OTAs are going well.

    “It’s good to be back with a team and get this football thing going,” Wing said. “So, it’s that time of the year, it’s football season.”

    Last season, the Steelers ranked 21st in the league with an average of 43 yards per punt, split between Zoltan Mesko, who was cut after seven games, and Mat McBriar, who finished the season but was not re-signed.

    Daniel Sepulveda, the hard-hitting, two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the nation’s best collegiate punter, was drafted in 2007 and seen as the long-term solution.

    Two ACL tears, a torn meniscus and 52 games later, he was gone, and the Steelers were back to square one — otherwise known as a combination of McBriar, Mesko, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler and Mitch Berger.

    With such a punting circus seemingly in the past, now the familiar story is that of the grizzled veteran vs. the rookie who appears to have a lofty ceiling.

    The stats on Podlesh are basic but steady. For his career, four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars and three with the Chicago Bears, he averaged 42.4 yards per punt, a 30.9 net average and a 33.7 percent rate of punts inside the opponent’s 20.

    Chicago ranked last in punting last season. As a result, Podlesh was released, and the Steelers signed him to a one-year deal in April.

    While the Steelers might know what they’re getting in Podlesh, Wing is the center of intrigue.

    Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wing was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2013 season, but he lost the job before the season started to veteran Donnie Jones. He was released in August, and the Steelers signed him to a reserve/future contract in January.

    Wing, 23, said the biggest difference between being a member of the Eagles and Steelers is history.

    “They know what they’re doing over here. Not to say the Eagles don’t, but [the Steelers] have won so many Super Bowls,” Wing said. “It’s just a history-rich organization.”

    At LSU, Wing was second-team All-SEC in 2011 and a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award that same year. In two seasons at LSU, he averaged 44.6 yards per punt.

    But Wing said he had “a little bit” of regret leaving school after just two years.

    “It didn’t go the way I planned last year. I wanted to be playing, and that didn’t happen, but everything happens for a reason. I’m a strong believer of that … I’m really excited to be a Steeler,” he said.

    While the numbers show consistency and an opportunity to make an impact quickly, his off-field actions show a different picture.

    In 2011, Wing was arrested for simple battery and issued a misdemeanor summons. He was also suspended from the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

    Those issues are in the past, Wing said.

    “For me, I’ve got a little boy now, a 14-month-old son, and I didn’t have him while I was in college.

    “So, a lot of the questions people have about my maturity, you know, I know that actions speak louder than words. I’ve had my head on straight for nearly two years now, and there’s been no issues, so I’m going to keep doing that.”

    He said playing at a large university might have helped him prepare for the NFL because he has performed under the pressure of 90,000 people, and most of the players he punted to in college might be on the receiving end of his NFL punts.

    He was considered by most as the best punter available in the 2013 draft after finishing with the highest career punting average in LSU history. Both of his college seasons rank in LSU’s top five..

    Will Wing become everything Sepulveda wasn’t? Or will he be beat out once again by the guy who has been around the block a few times? He said he thinks his chances of making the team are good.

    “I’ve just got to come out here every day and get better and focus on putting the defense in the best position, and I think I’m in a good position,” he said. “I’m excited to see what happens.”

    http://137.117.100.210/sports/steele...#ixzz34dSNTO54
    Last edited by hawaiiansteel; 06-14-2014 at 02:31 PM.

  4. #4
    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Markus Wheaton or Lance Moore? Stephon Tuitt or Cam Thomas? Marcus Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum? Here’s a new one: Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh?

    Tuitt vs. Thomas is a legit competition, as is Wing vs. Podlesh. But Gilbert vs. Beachum isn't a competition at all since one is the starting RT and the other is the starting LT. Also, Wheaton vs. Moore isn't exactly a pure competition either since one is expected to be an outside receiver while the other should be used out of the slot.

  5. #5
    Following consecutive 8-8 seasons? I'd like to see the players told that every starting position is up for grabs, and will have to be EARNED.

    And yes, I understand that, realistically, you can figure out who most of the starters will be.

  6. #6
    Legend hawaiiansteel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RuthlessBurgher View Post
    Marcus Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum?

    Gilbert vs. Beachum isn't a competition at all since one is the starting RT and the other is the starting LT.
    imo, should have read: Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams.


    I think Beachum's LT starting job is more secure than Gilbert's RT one is. I'm hoping that Adams will improve enough under Munchak to give Gilbert a good battle for the starting RT position.

  7. #7
    Looking forward to the battles that will take place at Latrobe.
    DHB vs. J.Brown
    Paulson vs. Branchflower
    Carter and Garvin vs Zumwalt and H.Jones
    Just to name a few.

    Good teams will have to cut some solid players and I expect us to be in that position come the end of the pre-season.

  8. #8
    I'm very interested to see the battle of McLendon vs. McLendon. There is a lot of talk about his game being improved, and that is needed. If he really has improved that much then that will be a huge change in this D. If he has not, then he will have to face the competition from Fangupo, Cam Thomas, and Big McCullers. Ideally, though, McLendon has really stepped up his game.

  9. #9
    Pro Bowler skyhawk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by steeler_fan_in_t.o. View Post
    I'm very interested to see the battle of McLendon vs. McLendon. There is a lot of talk about his game being improved, and that is needed. If he really has improved that much then that will be a huge change in this D. If he has not, then he will have to face the competition from Fangupo, Cam Thomas, and Big McCullers. Ideally, though, McLendon has really stepped up his game.
    Good post.

    We really need the NT position back to par. We really learned the hard way how good Hampton was. And in the 3-4 defense it all started with him. I hope McClendon can improve and get this D stopping the run again. If he can dominate up front the play of Shazier and Timmons will make this D shine once again.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by skyhawk View Post
    Good post.

    We really need the NT position back to par. We really learned the hard way how good Hampton was. And in the 3-4 defense it all started with him. I hope McClendon can improve and get this D stopping the run again. If he can dominate up front the play of Shazier and Timmons will make this D shine once again.
    I agree. The NT is the Rodney Dangerfield of the 3-4. When he is good, it is all about the LBs flying around, making plays. When he is bad...then he is awful and getting run all over. A NT is like a ref. He is at his best when you don't notice him.

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