With the first week of training camp in the books, several developments involving the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken place. Position battles, injuries, and plenty of other news have affected their 2016 season outlook. It is a good time to look at where this team is and who may be worth watching in the preseason at each position. Some jobs will be won and lost in the preseason, and anyone should know that attrition is needed to win a Super Bowl. This edition will be the defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Players to Watch in the Pre-Season
The duo of Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt is being talked up as a duo that may be one of the better in team history. Given the history of this team on the defensive line, these are mighty big words. In the preseason, what to watch for is how they use the two. The Steelers will be going into sub-packages more often and these two may be the only defensive lineman on the field for the majority of snaps. L.T. Walton and Ricardo Mathews should be making the team as the backup ends. The question with Mathews will be whether he plays on the end at all of if he is only used as an interior rusher in sub-package football. Walton is entering year two so the progression of the sixth round pick should be followed.
Javon Hargrave was a third-round draft pick, but could arguably be the most day one ready starter of any of the Steelers selections. Hargrave is a monster as a pass rusher and has excelled in that regard in camp. It will be interesting to see whether he rotates with Tuitt and Heyward in the sub-package or lines up as a nose tackle in the 3-4 more. The other tackle that should make the team is Daniel McCullers. McCullers has been on the team longer than Hargrave, and may slot in as the initial starter after the loss of Steve McLendon. However, McCullers is specifically a space eater and a nose tackle in the 3-4. With Hargraves versatility, he may not start alongside Tuitt and Heyward but he will likely play more snaps than McCullers.
The name that is getting all of the hype right now is Anthony Chickillo. He has had a great camp and with Jarvis Jones one year away from free agency and James Harrison on the brink of retirement, the Steelers may be hoping to find an in-house replacement in Chickillo this year. On the other side, Bud Dupree has lost 20 pounds entering year two in hopes of staying on the field longer. Last season, the Steelers rotated four outside linebackers, but 2016 may be more about carving a full-time roles for Dupree and Chickillo.
Ryan Shazier continues to dazzle in practice. Of course, no Steelers fan is unsure of his skill. It is more of whether he can put in a full season without getting hurt. Negotiations with Lawrence Timmons on an extension have almost completely broken off. It would be in the Steelers best interest to wait until the end of the season to decide on him, but they should be looking to find a replacement at some point because it is unlikely he plays more than three more seasons. Tyler Matakevich is the name to watch as he looks to win the last roster spot on the team with special teams play. The Bronco Nagurski award winner has been the favorite of many beat reporters for the intensity he brings to practice. He is undersized, but with experience could eventually bring an impact.
The news of Senquez Golson and his injury destroys the depth of the secondary. Sean Davis, who was supposed to compete for safety snaps, will now be a full-time slot cornerback. The question then becomes do they consider Davis a cornerback and carry an extra safety on the 53-man roster? If they consider Davis a safety, Montell Garner, Al-Hajj Shabazz, and Kevin White become the names to watch as one of those three will make the roster. As for the outside cornerback spots, William Gay and Ross Cockrell seem to have commanding leads with first round pick Artie Burns as the backup entering the season.
With Davis mainly in the slot Robert Golden is going to see a ton of playing time. This is the special team’s captain and a career special teamer at that. The depth behind him is Shamarko Thomas, who has been questioned by Mike Tomlin for mental mistakes, and Ross Ventrone, who is even more of a pure special teamer than Golden. Mike Mitchell all of the sudden becomes one of the most valuable players on the entire Steelers roster because if he gets hurt, this team will be looking for guys off of the street to take snaps.