Question from Ryan: What are the position battles to watch in training camp?
Answer: There are only a few positions that have not yet been decided. One is the starting receiver opposite Antonio Brown. I think the coaches would like to see Markus Wheaton step up and earn that job in camp. He did a nice job this spring, but he must prove he can handle it when it counts. If Wheaton falters, free agent Lance Moore could be the guy. He picked up the offense quickly this spring. Honestly, I’m not sure it matters all that much. If the Steelers run the no-huddle a lot they’ll likely do it with three-receiver sets, in which case Antonio Brown, Wheaton and Moore will be on the field anyway. Another battle to watch is for the fifth receiver. Last year Derek Moye won the job, but he’ll be pushed by free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Brown, a sixth-round pick from last year. Brown was very good this spring and might have an edge going into camp. On defense, the only starting position that is open is defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. Cam Thomas took the first-team reps with the starters in OTAs and minicamp. Stephon Tuitt, the second-round pick in May’s draft, could eventually unseat him this season, but I’m not sure it happens in September. Defensive linemen in this defense take some time to develop and Tuitt himself characterized this spring as “rocky” for him. The Steelers are making a youth movement and would like to find out about their younger players sooner so don’t rule Tuitt out. As far as battles to make the roster on defense I think there are a lot of young linebackers looking to make an impression. Some guys who made the team last year might not make it this year. The Steelers drafted two inside linebackers in Ryan Shazier and Jordan Zumwalt and players like Vince Williams and Terence Garvin will have to prove all over again that they are worthy of making the 53-man roster. On special teams, veteran free agent Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing will compete for the punting duties.
Question from Jerry: What are some reasonable expectations for Le’Veon Bell if he stays healthy all season?
Answer: Bell had 860 yards in 13 games last season. He missed the first three with a foot injury. If he plays in all 16 games this season I think he can rush for 1,100 yards because I think the offensive line will improve under new coach Mike Munchak. I was tempted to go even higher than 1,100 yards, but I think the coaches like LeGarrette Blount means more than they liked Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones and he’ll get some opportunities in the regular offense and in goal line situations. And remember, Bell is a very good receiver out of the backfield and will contribute there as well. He had 45 catches for 399 yards last season.
Question from Rob: If Dri Archer does not return punts was he drafted too high?
Answer: Well, here is what general manager Kevin Colbert said in May when a reporter asked him if they reached for Archer in the third round: “I don’t think so because return guys change games. In my mind return guys are starters. I had the good fortune of being with a guy named Mel Gray, who was a running back at Purdue University. He was one of the best returners in the NFL prior to the Hester’s of the world. They change games, when you get a guy like that, that can change a game, his kick return ability is unique. It’s really special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, we see some value there.” So Colbert’s words paints a picture that he was taken almost strictly for his special teams abilities and whatever they receive from him on offense will be a bonus. Taking that into consideration I would say if Archer does not return punts then his value is diminished and yes he likely was taken too high. Here is why: with the newer kickoff rules there are more touchbacks and fewer opportunities for kickoff returners. I know Archer worked on returning punts this spring and he’ll be given more opportunities to do the same thing this summer in training camp. I assume he’ll be able to pick it up, but it is important to note that fielding kickoffs and punts are two very different talents. It’s not a slam dunk that someone can add that to their repertoire.