Expect Real Camp Battles in 2014

temp2014_OTA_0527aa_0142_1--nfl_mezz_1280_1024Training camp for many of us is a wonderful thing, because it’s our first chance to see the newest version of the Steelers roster.

I think my favorite part of camp though is two or sometimes three guys battling for a starting spot.

The Steelers historically have been almost set at every position going into camp.

While that’s unfortunately not the case this year; it will make this summer much more interesting than normal.

Both Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau haven’t been shy about announcing that the 2014 rookie class is definitely in the race for starting spots.

Here are some of the camp battles I’m looking forward to this summer…

Ryan Shazier vs. Vince Williams vs. Sean Spence – ILB

Might as well start with the position of our first round pick. The first round pick will be the biggest story in camp, in part because he was such a surprise. I think you’ll hear a lot of buzz too because Shazier is lightning quick, which tends to stand out in what Coach Tomlin calls “football in shorts.”

I give Shazier about a 75% chance of winning that starting spot… Call me crazy, but I think that the man Shazier has to worry about is Sean Spence; not 2013 starter Vince Williams. Vince Williams played absolutely as well as a rookie 6th round pick could have, but he just doesn’t have the athleticism to be an every down player.

Early word out of OTA’s is that Spence looked like he did in 2012 camp. If the burst is still there, and Spence used his down time to learn the playbook, then he could have a chance at starting. I still don’t expect to happen, but you never know.

Stephon Tuitt vs. Cam Thomas – DE

I’ve heard that Cam Thomas looks like a NT, and there’s been some speculation about a nose tackle battle between Thomas and McLendon… but for now I’ll take Kevin Colbert at his word, and assume Thomas is a defensive end.

I think no matter what happens, you’re going to see a lot of rotations along the DE position across from Cam Heyward, and probably at nose also.

Stephon Tuitt is probably my favorite pick in the 2014 draft, but I also think that DE in the 3-4 is one of the harder positions to learn. The Steelers’ scheme requires their lineman to play a specific way, and as we saw with Cam Heyward, it can take some time to learn.

My early prediction is that the veteran Thomas starts, but we’ll see plenty of Tuitt as well.

Cortez Allen vs. William Gay – #2 CB

This battle is between two vets, no rookies. Cortez Allen looked great as a rookie but has yet to really take the next step and take a firm hold on a starting spot.

William Gay gets beat up publicly by a lot of Steeler nation, but he’s a solid contributor, and above average nickle corner with consistency issues.

Ultimately I think that Cortez fits better outside with Gay playing in the slot, but the Steelers showed last year they’re not afraid to give Allen the hook if he’s not playing “above the line.”

Mike Adams vs. Marcus Gilbert – RT

This is going to be a really interesting battle because of the addition of Mike Munchak to the staff. In the past Marcus Gilbert has been the more reliable (while unspectacular) man lately.Adams has more tools and upside, but hasn’t been able to put it together at this point. Adams’ footwork and technique is a mess, which is where Munchak could really help.

I also wonder if the fact that the Steelers’ rebuilding of the run game is an advantage for Adams who at times has looked like a bulldozer; opening holes for running backs.

All that being said, he hasn’t done it so far in his career, so he’ll need to beat Gilbert for the spot, not just fight to a stalemate.

Markus Wheaton vs. Martavis Bryant – #2 WR

I list this “battle” last, and begrudgingly, because I don’t believe this is going to be a battle at all. If I didn’t list it though I’m sure it’d be brought up.

I’ve seen a lot of people (many of them national writers) discuss the possibility of Bryant being the Steelers’ number 2 receiver.

I think the optimism of people around Bryant could be doing his a disservice. I loved the pick, I really did… but Bryant went in round 4 for a reason. He played with a great college QB with a big arm, and played across from the best receiver in the country.

He’s incredibly raw. I realize Wheaton showed virtually nothing in 2013, but he was slowed by injuries and a late camp start. Despite that, he has a year under his belt and I expect Wheaton to have a solid season. People quickly forget that Wheaton was considered a steal only 1 year ago.

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