The Pittsburgh Steelers return to St. Vincent College in Latrobe for 2019 Training Camp this week. This iteration of Steelers Training Camp figures to have a vastly different vibe than previous years as player “distractions” (like flying in on a helicopter or guys having their own bed & breakfast place) should be kept to a minimum. While the starting lineups, particularly on defense, are mostly set, there will be some battles for roster spots that are worth watching. The Steelers went heavy on inside linebacker depth this offseason, signing free agent Mark Barron and trading up to draft Devin Bush. This spells a quick end to the experiment of using strong safeties as inside “dime” linebackers which the Steelers seemed to go all-in on last year by signing Morgan Burnett and drafting Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen. Entering 2019, the Steelers have a safety depth chart still loaded with “strong” safeties and lack a true “free” safety that can roam the deep middle of the field.
Terrell Edmunds (2nd year), Sean Davis (4th year), Jordan Dangerfield (3rd year), Marcus Allen (2nd year)
Last year we commented that the Steelers seemed to be building their entire defense out of strong safeties. This was amplified by them using not one but two draft picks on strong safeties (Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen) along with signing Morgan Burnett in free agency. Burnett had an injury-plagued season then complained about a lack of playing time, giving the Steelers an opportunity to show him the door. It was never said outright, but it was commonly believed that Burnett was the source of many of the locker room leaks to the media as well. Due to Burnett’s injuries, Terrell Edmunds was forced into a starting role his rookie season. He got better as the season went on but still has room to improve his game. Sean Davis moved from Strong Safety to Free Safety last year and saw a dip in production. This is a “prove it” year for Davis as he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. For better or worse, Edmunds and Sean Davis will be the starters this season and the depth behind them is incredibly thin.
Jordan Dangerfield continues to surprise people by making the team. Dangerfield is a downhill, aggresive defensive back who earns his keep on special teams. He is very limited in coverage, but has proven useful in heavy packages against the run. Marcus Allen is still trying to find his way. The Steelers used the 5th round pick sparingly last year, usually as a slot defender or dime backer. With the additions of Mark Barron and Devin Bush, the short-lived experiment of using safeties in a linebacker role seems to be over. This leaves the question open as to Allen’s role on the team.
Kameron Kelly (1st year), PJ Locke (UDFA), Dravon Askew-Henry (UDFA)
Kelly played safety and cornerback at San Diego State. He had a brief stint in the short-lived AAF with the San Diego Fleet, including a 3-interception game. The initial reports were that the Steelers would give him a shot as a safety. PJ Locke, an undrafted rookie out of Texas, got a lot of buzz from Steelers Twitter over the offseason due to the physical play of his college film. Locke will need to show out on Special Team during the preseason in order to make the roster, but given the lack of quality depth at the position there will be an open battle. Finally, Dravon Askew-Henry is a local kid who played high school at Aliquippa and went to West Virginia.
Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis are absolute locks to make the team and with no real competition on the roster, will be the starters. The depth here is razor thin so it would not be surprising if the Steelers looked for outside help on the waiver wire. One of the difficulties with bringing in a safety from the outside is that the safety positions are the ones that set up the defense and call the audibles, so incorporating someone new right before the season starts can be difficult. The Steelers will likely keep either 4 or 5 safeties (and 10 or 11 defensive backs in total). That said, given the lack of depth and the overwhelming depth at the cornerback position, it would not be surprising to see the Steelers give some corners a shot at safety. Last year they had talked about potentially moving Cam Sutton to safety and we have been saying since Draft Day 2017 that Brian Allen’s athletic profile is better suited to a safety than a corner. There will be a lot to sort out during training camp, and watching the backup safeties fight for roster positions will give us something to do during the second half of preseason games.