The Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe on Friday with many question marks throughout their roster. Many positions will be up for grabs when the team takes the field for the first practice of summer this Saturday. Many new faces will be trying to unseat familiar ones on a team that went 8-8 for the second straight year. Some of these battles are for starting jobs while others are for backup or special team roles. Only one thing is certain, the team will look much different when this season opens versus Cleveland then when it ended against them last year.
Wide Receiver
There are four players who are locks to make the team. Antonio Brown, Marcus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant will all be on the roster in some order when the season begins. The battle here will be for the second starting receiver behind Brown. Wheaton has a year under his belt with the team, albeit an injury filled one. Moore is entering his ninth season in the NFL and first away from New Orleans. His best season was in 2008 when he caught 79 balls and 10 touchdowns. Bryant is a rookie from Clemson who comes in with all of the intangibles but is very unpolished. The best bet here is for Moore to start opposite Brown with Wheaton coming in on three wide receiver sets and Bryant when four wide receivers are called for.
Justin Brown impressed coaches during OTA’s but is battling for a roster spot with free agent pickup Darius Heyward-Bey and Derek Moye. Brown, a sixth round selection in 2013, spent all of last season on the practice squad. DHB, a former first round pick, is a speedster who has done nothing but underachieve during his career. Moye cracked the lineup last season but only managed two catches, one of which went for a touchdown. I believe if the Steelers only keep one, it will be Brown. If they keep two of these receivers, Moye and brown should be the two with DHB the odd man out.
Running Back
The battle here is not about who the starter will be, or even who will remain on the roster. Le’Veon Bell will be the starter and feature back in Todd Haley’s offense with LeGarrette Blount set as the second string and change of pace back. Rookie Dri Archer is also all but guaranteed to make the team as the third back. His speed and small size give him the versatility and game changing ability every NFL coach covets. Will Johnson will be listed as the lone fullback on the roster.
The main question surrounding the backs is how will the touches get distributed? With Bell being the main guy, I see Blount spelling him at times and coming in for short yardage situations. Archer can, should and will play many roles for the offense. He will play running back as well as wide receiver and kick returner. I will not be surprised to see all three running backs on the field at once during different situations this season. They all bring different and valuable skills to the table and if used properly can present major problems for defenses around the league.
Offensive Line
The offensive line should and will be better this season because of the return of center Maurkice Pouncey from a season ending knee injury 8 plays into the 2013 season. It’s safe to say right guard David DeCastro, who was the one who mysteriously blocked Pouncey’s knee on that play and never seemed to mentally recover, will be back on board and ready to go when the season kicks off. Ramon Foster was undrafted but has turned into a fine offensive lineman and should man left guard in front of Roethlisberger. The major question marks rest in the tackles. Former second round picks Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert will be fighting for a starting job alongside former seventh round selection Kelvin Beachum. The best bet, before new offensive line coach Mike Munchak has an entire training camp to bring the best out of the young men, is the line will look the same as it did to end last season. From left to right it should be Beachum, Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Gilbert. The biggest question with the line lies with Adams. Can Munchak get the best out of Adams, who has all of the potential but has not been able to put it use on the professional level? My bet is Adams will be better but will not start the season as a starter. However, as any Steeler fan will tell you, it’s only a matter of time before injuries happen up front and backups will be called on to fill the holes left behind.
Tight End
Heath Miller should be back at full strength for the entire season after getting a late start last year recovering from an ACL injury. Matt Spaeth will be on the field a good bit with Miller as more of a blocking TE. When Miller and Spaeth were on the field together last season the Steelers averaged almost 30 more rushing yards per game than without that pair. It’s safe to say they will play together a lot in two TE sets. Fullback Will Johnson will also play a good bit of his snaps at TE as opposed to fullback. 2014 seventh round selection Rob Blanchflower has an excellent chance of making the roster based on his ability as a big body to block and get open in space. The odd man out of the equation should either be David Paulson or Michael Palmer. Paulson has caught 13 balls in two NFL seasons with the Steelers while Palmer has only one reception under his belt last year. The deciding factor will be who can play a bigger role on special teams. My guess is Palmer will win the spot based on that alone.
Offensive Outlook
The 2014 Steelers offense should be improved from the 2013 version but two big questions loom. Will the offensive line remain injury free and will the young receiving corps be able to get on the same page as Roethlisberger? Those two questions will be the two biggest ones as the season begins and progresses. Roethlisberger should remain one of the most trusted and reliable quarterbacks in the league and he should remain more upright, thanks to a more seasoned offensive line coached by one of the best minds in the game in Munchak. The sky is the limit for the 2014 Steelers offense. The only problem is their floor is at the bottom of a steep hill. The line and receivers will be the key to their success. If they perform, anything is possible. The only problem is that’s a very

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