Competition often breeds success. Better than typical competition could breed something even greater and that’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping for as Training Camp 2019 comes to and end this week. Make no mistake about the fact that there is competition in every training camp year in and year out. But this particular installment of camp in Latrobe appears to have taken on a higher level than we’ve seen in recent years.
There’s the battle to see who can start at right tackle. Matt Feiler is the incumbent and he’s being challenged by Chuks Okorafor primarily. But now, after a solid game last weekend, is Zach Banner suddenly trying to make this a three-horse race? We’re going to need to see a lot more before any conclusions can be made.
There’s also the battle for the number two receiver job. James Washington looked spectacular in the win over Tampa Bay while his main rival Donte Moncrief sat out. This particular level of competition weighs differently than others simply because of the likelihood that the Steelers will use so many three and four wide receiver sets. That means that both Washington and Moncrief will be on the field at the same time. Still, there’s nothing quite like grabbing that ‘starting’ spot for morale purposes now is there?
Let us not forget that regardless of your opinion there are still battles going on for place kicker and for the punting job as well. I’m inclined to believe that the incumbents, Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry will win their respective competitions, but there are still a few weeks left in the preseason and anything can happen.
And Then There’s the Depth…
This may be the most significant reason there is a higher than normal level of competition this summer. Start at backup quarterback where both Josh Dobbs an Mason Rudolph each had their moments last Friday. While neither will be beaten by rookie Devlin Hodges, this young man is clearly making things difficult by pushing for the third string job. That raises the bar immediately for Rudolph and Dobbs.
There are suddenly battles taking place on the offensive line as Fred Johnson has come out of nowhere to look solid so far at guard. Has Jerald Hawkins’ time run its course with the emergence of the above mentioned Banner and Okorafor?
Take a look at the competition that has developed for the fourth, fifth and perhaps sixth wide receiver spots. Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers, Diontae Johnson, Dionate Spencer and now Johnny Holton all seem to be raising their games to new levels in attempts to out-perform one another. Those that can’t get left behind.
Defensively you have those fifth and sixth defensive line spots available. You also have a bigger than normal group of capable outside linebackers too. If Ulysees Gilbert can perform that same way throughout the preseason then how on Earth would you not keep him around?
So Why the Increase in Competition?
For one thing, this team is getting younger. If you look the running back position, the wide receiver position and the tight ends, there’s a lot of youth there. While wily old vets certainly have their battles, the young guys don’t want to hear that call to “bring your playbook” because Coach wants to see you.
I’d also say there is some urgency too. When you play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and you don’t go to the Playoffs? That’s a problem and you as a player feel it as much as anyone in the organization. So when you mix hungry young players, strong-willed vets and the desperation to win a Super Bowl all up you get a healthier than usual dose of competition.