Sunday, May 19, 2013

Training Camp Battles On Offense Take On Different Look



"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats." - B. C. Forbes (Yes, that Forbes.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 season ended abruptly at home at the hands of one of their division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Something that absolutely chafed the Steelers leaders, one in particular speaking out about it.

“It‘s amazing to me how much little things really matter, the personnel and the personality of the team, how much all that matters in camp and what you put in in the offseason,” Polamalu said, adding, “(It‘s) how you treat your teammates in the offseason, how you prepare them.”

Fast forward to the 2013 post-draft offseason and, according to another Steelers veteran leader, inside linebacker Larry Foote, in an interview with GoBlueWolverine.com on Wednesday, the Steelers are still a chafed bunch who are now chomping at the bit.

“We’re pissed off we didn’t make the playoffs. On top of that, our rival won the Super Bowl. I know guys are taking it personally. It’s just a whole different mindset to the off-season. I know guys are ready to get back where we need to be.”

That "whole different mindset" likely also reflects Polamalu's calling it "a humbling process" for many players on the team. However, Polamalu and Foote were by no means the only players who were unhappy. Wide receiver Antonio Brown has also spoken up about leadership and responsibility this offseason and what it will take in Training Camp and beyond to make this a winning team again.

“We gotta do what we gotta do,” Brown told KDKA-TV Sports back before the NFL Draft. “Guys like myself gotta step up.”

The point of convergence here, though, is how the other players, principally the other receivers and running backs, will "step up" in Camp and after to make up the five or six WRs, the three or four tight ends (depending on Heath Miller's status) and the four or five running backs (including a fullback).

In the battle for the available WRs spots, the chance for there to be six this season may begin higher than some think. The WRs currently on the Steelers' roster, after Brown, are Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress, Markus Wheaton, Justin Brown, Reggie Dunn, David Gilreath, Derek Moye and Kashif Moore. So, assuming the first four spots are set, the last two could easily be Wheaton and, not Justin Brown but, Dunn.

First off, let's just forward the résumé's of Moore and Moye to MetLife Insurance and the Cedar Rapids Titans respectively, and then concentrate on those who actually have a chance at making the team. With that done, we then face the fact that Gilreath has little chance of making the list of 53. Unless Justin Brown falls flat on his face, Gilreath is headed for the practice squad. If that.

That leaves Markus Wheaton to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. In truth, he has the requisite talent, speed and "position flexibility" to move quickly up the depth chart with a strong Camp. If he's as good as we believe him to be, he could even challenge Cotchery for the third spot. With Cotch and Plax being on the wrong side of 30, Wheaton could eventually be used interchangeably this season with Sanders in the slot and outside positions.

Then Dunn gets our nod for a sixth spot courtesy of a correspondence between Behind The Steel Curtain. Dunn was a brilliant, if not scary, kick returner at Utah. We wrote recently about his prowess, but acknowledged that his chances were affected by only excelling at one thing. That's now changed.

In an article written last week, BTSC caught up with Utah University's Block U website on the attributes of one Reggie Dunn, and whether he can be used at WR also. The answers were very encouraging. - http://tinyurl.com/c84s245

"Dunn is a talent and, with a competent offense and quarterback, I anticipate he can be utilized." Considering the sixth WR spot would mainly just be special teams anyway, the chances for him making the roster just jumped.

Plus, considering the speed of the other WRs - AB: 4.5; Manny: 4.41; MW: a "disappointing" 4.44; and Dunn: 4.22 - a 4.62 Justin Brown is probably headed for the practice squad his first season, only to take over the spot of the red zone target next season from a then-retired Plax.

The tight end position rests upon the rehabilitation of Miller. If he's ready at season's beginning, he would lead David Paulson and Matt Spaeth as the three ends. If he isn't ready and is PUP Listed, the Steelers might keep David Johnson as effectively the fourth tight end until Miller is removed from the PUP.

The other possibility is to combine his worth with the fullback spot as the H-Back. That move is not popular with If It Ain't Steel as we're not overly fond of DJ and it would mean losing Will Johnson who proved to be a very good fullback. It would also, though, mean having keeping just four running backs. Outside of Le'Veon Bell, the next three are uncertain considering that one, likely Jonathan Dwyer, might be traded before the season begins.

If so, your four RBs would then be Bell, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Baron Batch. It would be a sensible stable of RBs with Bell being the feature back, Redman being the short-yardage and red zone option, LSH being the receiver out of the backfield and third-down option and Baron Batch receiving a hat on game day to carry out the latter two sets of duties.

And since last season's running game SNAFU begs to be remedied, that, along with the other ills of the offense, would seemingly be enough of 'history demonstrating heartbreaking obstacles'. Now, triumph, in position battles and into the season, must come by 'refusing to become discouraged by those defeats'.