With the approach of training camp comes the battles of positions. Rookie versus veteran, rookie versus rookie; whatever the case might be, positions are earned, not given. The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a number of position battles, but we’ll take a look at the three most intriguing.
The Steelers haven’t had a legitimate punter since Daniel Sepulveda became irrelevant after tearing his ACL seasons ago.
Last season, Zoltan Mesko was brought aboard only to be cut soon after for “JV punts.” Mat McBrier replaced him and finished out the season, however, he was not re-signed.
This year the battle will be between former stand-out LSU punter and Philadelphia Eagle Brad Wing and former Chicago Bear Adam Podlesh.
The Bears ranked last in punting last season, so Podlesh was released for his efforts. He isn’t all that bad though. Netting 37.9 yards on his kicks, he seems just like the other faces the Steelers have brought in to put a toe on the ball.
Wing hasn’t really gotten a chance to shine. He didn’t make the cut after being drafted by the Eagles in 2013. Wing at LSU was a Ray Guy Award finalist and considered the best punter in the ’13 draft. Wing isn’t proven at the NFL level, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable.
Winner: Brad Wing
The Steelers haven’t brought back long-time defensive end, Brett Keisel, but they did bring in Cam Thomas and drafted Stephon Tuitt.
As it stands, the battle would be between Thomas and Tuitt. The Steelers lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods to free agency, leaving the position open for interpretation.
This one on is no-brainer though. The Steelers will most likely give the nod to rookie Tuitt. Thomas will be depth, and if the team decides to bring Keisel back, he’ll be a special package player as well as depth.
Winner: Stephon Tuitt
1. Wide Receiver
This is by far the biggest battle going for the Steelers. Even though there’s a front runner as of now, a lot could change in the midst of training camp.
Antonio Brown is a lock for the number one receiving spot, while former New Orleans Saint Lance Moore will likely be a slot receiver, playing the role of last year’s Jerricho Cotchery. Wheaton appears to be the early favorite, but that’s not set in stone. One of these players could be a good camp and preseason away from claiming that spot.
Heyward-Bey is a veteran of the game and was picked up to add depth after the receiving corps dwindled with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders and Cotchery. Heyward-Bey still has some game left, but is it enough to trump a younger player? It doesn’t seem likely.
Moye is fighting not only for the receiving spot for a roster spot as well. Showing up in a few games last season, Moye scored one touchdown, but made little impact. It really looks like Moye’s time with the team is nearly up.
That brings me to my next guy.
Martavis Bryant, the team’s fourth round pick, will ultimately take a roster spot from the likes of Moye and C.J. Goodwin, another guy fighting for a roster spot.
Bryant is the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger’s been craving since the Plaxico Burress’ days. At 6-foot-4, he’s got “red zone weapon” written all over him. With that said, he might be used in special packages and not as a legit two guy, but is still expected to claim a roster spot.
Justin Brown is an interesting player to keep an eye on. J. Brown had a strong showing during OTAs and mini-camp, he’s turning heads and has made the case that he’s here to compete for receiving role. More questions about him will be answered when camp starts, but highlight his name on the roster, he’s worth noting.
Lastly, there’s the front-runner, Wheaton. Last season he reeled in six grabs for 64 yards and was derailed by a finger injury. He’s healthy now and ever since Sanders left for Denver, he’s been looked upon as the go-to. He’s more than capable of replacing Sanders and being the second receiver.
It’s his job to lose, really. Barring another injury or a fantastic camp from J. Brown, you have to assume Wheaton will be lining up opposite of Brown this coming season.
Winner: Markus Wheaton