The next three weeks of preseason football will be a scavenger hunt for the Pittsburgh Steelers opening day 53-man roster. On the list:
1. No. 1 Left Tackle
After reading about the recurrent deep balls in training camp, the first team offense kept it short in the opener. And as such, newly minted left tackle Mike Adams has yet to be tested in pass protection. At some point Todd Haley needs to let it fly and see if Adams has what it takes to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side.
2. No. 4 Cornerback
Starters Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen will be joined by William Gay as the nickel corner on opening day. But who do they have behind the starters? The Steelers occasionally employ the dime defense which uses six defensive backs. Safeties Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas are in the mix but the Steelers typically keep four or five corners on their roster. Will it be Curtis Brown who is still injured? Or last year’s No. 5 CB Josh Victorian? Isaiah Green and rookie fifth round pick Terry Hawthorne appear to be the top competition for Victorian and Brown.
3. Line Depth
The Steelers have a good, potentially great, starting six at offensive line, but if there is more than one injury who will be the next man up? Guards John Malecki and Justin Cheadle received the most reps against the Giants, and neither were particularly impressive against the large Giants defensive front. Cheadle is now out with a hamstring injury, opening the door for former Notre Dame tackle Mike Golic, Jr. Tackles Guy Whimper, D’Anthony Batiste, and Joe Long round out the rest of the competition.
4. Kick Returners
The hunt is on for the opening day punt and kick returner. The shifty back LaRod Stephens-Howling likely will returning kicks but the competition could be a little more interesting if rookie wideouts Reggie Dunn or Kashif Moore are given a chance. Also, with the injuries to co-starting running backs Isaac Redman and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers may want to limit Stephens-Howling’s special team role. Rookie receiver Markus Wheaton has also been testing the waters at punt returner in practice.
5. Inside Linebacker
One of the takeaways from the Giants matchup was the aggressive and hard-hitting group of inside linebackers the Steelers have competing in camp this summer. Free agent pickups Kion Wilson and Brian Rolle were constantly in the backfield. Both Rolle and rookie Vince Williams, who played the “Buck” position, had a sack.
Second year player Marshall McFadden played well against the run but was questionable in coverage. Veteran and special teams leader Stevenson Sylvester did not play after suffering a minor ankle injury during a punt return. The Steelers may need all four preseason games to decide which of these players will make the ILB cut-off.
As running back coach Kirby Wilson and Kevin Butler said in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: “Your backup guys have to be great special-teams players. It will come down to who [special teams coach] Danny Smith likes because the competition will be that close.”
“We have some young linebackers who can hit and run, so it’s going to be pretty competitive here the next few weeks.”
The hunt is on at 9 p.m. Monday on ESPN.