As the Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2014 training camp at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, PA, Steel Curtain Rising took the chance to review 5 Key Challenges facing the team.
While the roster battles and player development at inside linebacker, defensive end, offensive line, safety, and wide receiver are among the most critical issues the team must address, they are not the only ones.
There are other, “Less Frequently Asked” questions the Steelers must also answer.
What About Depth at Running Back?
The Steelers seem to have set themselves up for an effective 1-2 punch at running back with Le’Veon Bell coming into his own late last year, and the acquisition of LeGarrette Blount as a free agent in the off season.
- After that, however, the depth chart remains sparse.
Johnathan Dwyer is in Pittsburgh West, and Felix Jones remains unsigned (and should stay that way.) Early in the off season some speculated that LaRod Stephens-Howling, injured (who wasn’t?) in last year’s opener, might be back, but that move has not materialized.
Pittsburgh also selected Dri Archer in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he is listed as an WR/RB and his number assignment of 13 suggests where he’ll play most.
Outside of Archer, the Steelers have rookie Jordan Hall and journeymen Miguel Maysonet and Tauren Poole. They also have Alvester Alexander on the PUP list, who spent 2013 on the practice squad.
- None of these names is likely to inspire fear in the hearts of opposing AFC North defensive coordinators.
During the off season, yours truly made a plea for bringing back Isaac Redman on a no bonus (as in no risk) veteran minimum contract. Steelers Nation resisted the idea of Isaac Redman‘s return and likely was never considered on the South Side.
Even if Bell and Blount stay healthy all year, the Steelers need someone to establish himself as the up and comer.
Can Jarvis Jones Make the Second Year Leap?
NFL coaches are fond of saying that players typically make their biggest leap from years 1 and 2 in the NFL. Experience has shown that to be true. Aaron Smith appeared in just 6 games as a rookie and came out of nowhere to put a decade-long strange hold on the starting job.
Jarvis Jones impressed coaches enough during the 2013 preseason to win the week 1 starting job, but outside of an impressive tackle in the backfield, he struggled and ultimately gave up his starting job.
The Steelers let LaMarr Woodley go in off season in part because of injury and salary cap concerns, but also because they expected Jones to step up.
- Jarvis Jones must make that leap.
This is not a question of something fans want, it something the coaches need to have happen.
Speaking of the Jones Keeping Up….
Jarvis wasn’t the only Jones whom the Steelers drafted in 2013. They also expended a 4th round pick on quarterback Landry Jones, thus ending the Charlie Batch’s days as a backup. Jones then struggled in training camp and in preseason.
- The Steelers of course did not draft Jones to play, in either 2013 and God willing not in 2014.
But they clearly thought enough of him to bring him along as a backup. Bruce Gradkowski is only signed through the end of this season, and it is likely the Steelers had Jones in mind as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in 2015 when they made the decision.
The Steelers took a lot of flak for investing a fourth round pick in Jones, and Jones must begin vindicating their decision and that must begin now.
How Will the Pecking Order at Cornerback Evolve?
This is one of the most interesting non-conversations in Steelers Nation, by far. Going into the 2014 NFL Draft everyone knew the Steelers were going to pick a cornerback in the first round. The only question it seemed, was who.
- Of course the Steelers waited five rounds to draft Shaquille Richardson.
The justification for the apparent certainty was the fact that 2013 made it clear that Ike Taylor could not outrace Father Time indefinitely. And that’s led to another question that has been all but ignored.
- Will Ike Taylor start at corner?
Kevin Colbert was asked about this during an off season interview, and refused to commit to Taylor as the starter, but in and of itself isn’t terribly important, as those decisions are made by Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Carnell Lake.
But that doesn’t mean that the Ike Taylor’s status as a starter should be a given.
Taylor agreed to take a pay cut and would likely take umbrage at having to compete for a starting job. The job should remain Taylor’s to keep, but if Cortez Allen and William Gay prove themselves to be better, there is no reason to keep them on the bench.
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