Thursday, May 3, 2007

Early Positional Battles

Heading into Tomlin's first official mini-camp, I see four key positional battles heating up:

At wide reciever, do the Steelers keep 5 or 6 this year? If it's 5, the battle will be between rookie Dallas Baker and 2nd year player Willie Reid. Reid brings a lot of speed and the added dimension of being a great kick returner. The question with him is health. He rarely saw the field last year and needs to show early that he's ready to go. Baker is a completely different WR. He's got very good size, but lacks great speed. Could become a reliable possession receiver with red-zone capabilities. If the Steelers decide on 6, both may have a spot.

At cornerback, there could be fight for who stays on the roster. This battle is between former 2nd round pick Ricardo Colclough and veteran Deshea Townsend. Steelers would love for Colclough to finally step up and show his abilities to be a solid CB. He has injuries problems of his own after suffering from a serious neck injury last year. At 32, Townsend is aging like a fine wine. He's had two very good seasons in which the young guys were gunning for his job and failed to beat him out. But, is this the end of the line? He's getting paid a lot of money. Do the Steelers make a salary cap move with him now? Each player's early performance may dictate what the Steelers plans are at CB.

At center, Jeff Hartings leaves a big hole. Webster, Dawson, Hartings...3 centers since the 70's. Has there been a more stable position in all of sports? Can the Steelers find the next successor with what they have? The battle begins with free agent signee Sean Mahan against in-waiting Chukky Okobi. There could also be more individuals entering the battle, such as Marvin Philips and Kendall Simmons. With Mahan and Okobi getting the initial crack, one needs to show the staff that they really want this job. This is going to be interesting and could ultimately determine how successful the team is going to be this year and going forward.

At running back, Parker and Davenport are the only sure things here. Do the Steelers bring back Verron Haynes? If his knee is OK, I think he's coming back. What about rookie free agent Gary Russel? This guy sounds like he has some talent, although school wasn't his thing. Who else is out there to mount a challenge? One or both of these guys needs to step up, compete, and contribute. If Fast Willie goes down, the season is over unless somebody can show something here. I have to imagine that the Steelers are not done looking for more talent at RB.

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