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Steelers eliminated from playoff competition with 13-10 loss to Cincinnati


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Competition heating up at camp


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It was a day many had been anxiously awaiting, and it didn’t disappoint as the Steelers practiced in pads for the first time on Saturday afternoon.“We had some competition periods, running backs on......

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Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Competition: ILBs Stevenson Sylvester vs. Sean Spence

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Antonio Cromartie #31 of the New York Jets is tackled by Stevenson Sylvester #55 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 19 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

We liked what we heard from Stevenson Sylvester in the interview we did with him this spring. Part of it was about his focus. In losing captain and longtime starter James Farrior, leadership will be lacking on the defensive side of the ball. Sylvester heads into training camp as the back-up to starting buck inside linebacker Larry Foote, and could find himself in a starting role at some point.

He's going to have to look both up at Foote and down at rookie Sean Spence, who was said to have looked pretty good at the buck position during OTAs and minicamps.

The Steelers drafted Spence, saying he would be groomed to play the mack linebacker spot, behind starter Lawrence Timmons. As any smart staff would do, though, they used him in a few different roles, but they saw enough to suggest Spence could potentially play what's more commonly seem as a strong-side, gap-filling buck instead of the flow-to-the-ball mack spot.

Sylvester has been with the team for the last three years, getting his first start last year against New England. While Sylvester didn't look his best during that game, he played a good number of snaps in Week 9 against Baltimore, and held his own a bit more.

It's difficult to see Foote being replaced any time soon. His experience in the defense is a critical component to the position. It is responsible for pre-snap adjustments and communication with the other 10 defenders on the field. While Sylvester continues to learn those nuances, the battle between he and Spence will come more in sub-package possibilities. Spence is the better athlete of the two, but is smaller and has far less experience in the terminology of the defense and the players around him.

Spence's skill is really in coverage, and his size almost suggests he's a really large safety as opposed to even a weakside linebacker. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin loves athletes, and the selection of Spence, not to mention the selection of Timmons (his first-ever draft pick in 2007), another smaller but insanely athletic linebacker, confirms that.

As far as the nickel package goes, Foote was off the field in that spot last year. Both Sylvester and Spence are faster than Foote is, and the competition between the two will most likely come on passing downs, when the distinction between mack and buck grays a bit.

Seeing the two of them do battle will probably bleed from camp into the season, and could even extend to next season, when Foote likely will not be back in a Steelers uniform.

Odds favor Sylvester by a bit at this point, but it's hard to keep a good athlete off the field. Spence could see time this year in specialty situations.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain


Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Competition: OLBs Jason Worilds vs. Chris Carter

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Steelers OLB Chris Carter had a chance to get some real looks this offseason in OTAs and minicamp due to back-up Jason Worilds' wrist surgery.

Worilds would have had those looks due to starter James Harrison's back issues holding him out for a little bit.

Neither of those injuries appear to be long-term issues, but they seem to be happening often enough now the Steelers may want to explore some long-term depth at the position.

That's where Carter comes in.

Although he looked, frankly, lost in his limited time last season, he showed a burst off the snap that could prove useful as he continues to grow as a player. He doesn't have the size (6-foot-1, 248) Worilds (6-foot-2, 262) does, but he looked more aggressive per-snap.

Neither looked particularly great against the run, but to their credit, they are both young players still learning the defense.

And learn quickly, they must. Harrison missed four games last year, and OLB LaMarr Woodley essentially missed eight. Their lack of field time produced just 35 sacks, which was 17th in the NFL, down from the 48 they produced the previous season.

Maybe it's a shot across the bow of the younger players, but the Steelers brought in former Bengals inside/middle linebacker Brandon Johnson and moved him outside. Perhaps Johnson will serve as a lead horse to contend with Worilds and handle special teams duties, but with Worilds' surgery, if Carter is to have a chance to compete for snaps, this training camp will be his best opportunity.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain


Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Competition: RB John Clay vs. RB Jonathan Dwyer


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We highlighted the speed backs Thursday, with Baron Batch and Chris Rainey squaring off.

Now it's time for the larger horses to bump noses.

Jonathan Dwyer, listed at 229 (some say that's a bit light) and John Clay, listed at 248, both got carries last year. Dwyer's highlight being a 79-yarder he broke off against Tennessee, and Clay's being a solid 10-carry effort against St. Louis. They stand apart due to that experience, even for as slight as it may be in comparison to the two prize guys, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.

The issue is weight.

Dwyer's been ripped for his apparent weight issues, even admitting he "messed up" when speaking to Time-Online reporter Mike Bires in August, 2011.

But the expectations for Dwyer have been high, which is perhaps why he's dedicating himself more to getting into shape.

Clay didn't look as big as he is when he was running last season, which is a good sign. He's as green as Batch and Rainey, though, and wouldn't have played last season if not for an injury to Mewelde Moore. Then Mendenhall. Eventually Dwyer went down as well.

The paradox with the group is their size, without question. However, the main issue with back-up running backs is how they define themselves as blockers. Sub package backs not only need to be willing to block, but must be able. It's not all about size, and it's not all about a guy's desire to get in there and lower the boom on a blitzer.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley's past suggests the running backs should all prepared to be as versatile as possible if they want to make the roster; carrying, running, cutting, catching and blocking. For Clay and Dwyer, they've shown at least some ability to carry the ball successfully at this level. To round out the unit as a whole, they have to set themselves apart as pass catchers and blockers.

It looks like there are six running backs competing for four positions. Mendenhall and Redman are locks, so the remaining four will fight for the remaining two spots. Each of them have something making them unique. Dwyer has experience, Clay has size, Rainey has special teams ability and Batch has skill and desire to block. Not that any of them don't possess any other traits, but heading into training camp, those are the attributes defining them.

Dwyer must come into camp in tip-top shape. Clay will have to improve his all around game. This is mostly because of the versatility Batch and Rainey have.

Dwyer is also the one without any practice squad eligibility. That is something that could end up playing in his favor.

We could mix the four of these guys backward and forward, and come up with a different decision.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Talkin’ More Offensive Line: Willie Colon’s Move to Left Guard Opens Up Tackle Competition

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Wednesday's announcement that OT Willie Colon is now LG Willie Colon creates competition for the Steelers' right tackle position. It could even influence the left tackle position.

What it ultimately does, though, is completely transform the Steelers offensive line, which is probably overdue at this point.

The Game of Musical Linemen Continues

The Steelers led the NFL in offensive line combinations last season (I saw there were 22 variations of five linemen, both starting and in-game replacements), and 2012 will add a 23rd different group.

The team informed Marcus Gilbert he'll play left tackle this season, and told Colon he'll play left guard. C Maurkice Pouncey will stay where he is, and rookie David DeCastro will play right guard. That leaves Jonathan Scott and rookie Mike Adams vying for right tackle.

Or does it?

It wouldn't be a Steelers offensive line without some speculation. Granted, the Steelers made the determination on Gilbert before the draft or free agency, suggesting they were pretty much convinced that was the direction they want to go in. But with nearly a full year of experience on the right side, the argument could be made having a veteran next to him it would help transition DeCastro to the NFL.

In that case, why not put Scott there?

If I were a betting man, I'd say Scott will open training camp at right tackle. Bets are off after that. I don't feel comfortable with making any bolder a prediction, but it seems too rosy to me to suggest the right tackle job is Adams' to lose right now. It was obvious to anyone watching Pouncey was a better player than Justin Hartwig, but it was still the veteran's job when the first preseason game rolled around.

I don't see the sense in just giving a rookie a job, even if the veteran is not exactly a world-beater. Then again, I (like most of everyone else) already penciled DeCastro in at right guard.

What about Max Starks?

What about him? We've speculated often about RB Rashard Mendenhall not making it back in time for training camp and probably not for the beginning part of the season. NT Casey Hampton as well. Starks falls between the two of them in terms of weight and age, and has the same injury. Certainly, less likely things have happened, but the difference is Hampton and Mendenhall are currently under contract. The Steelers don't have a ton of cap room, and cutting Scott doesn't save them any. Bringing Starks in to back up both tackle positions seems unlikely, at least for the earlier part of the year.

If Scott shows he's unable to handle a starting job, should he be thrust into one at some point, or has a poor training camp, then it's a different story. For now, the better option is to let Starks rehab and let Scott and Adams duke it out on their own.

They'll have Starks' number handy though, just in case.

Have we forgotten Colon's injury history?

If Colon has another set-back, it appears the job would be Doug Legursky's to lose. He won over offensive line coach Sean Kugler last season, and had earned time when Chris Kemoeatu was both injured and a healthy scratch.

Obviously, we're pulling for Colon, but we pulled for him last year, too. Injuries happen, and you don't really want to see anyone get hurt (I don't, at least, and judging from the comments yesterday, many won't agree with me). But that's the big X-factor here. All of this is for naught if something else happens to him.

Going into OTAs, though, the spotlight will be on Colon and his long-whispered move to the inside.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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