Camp competition, position-by-position
By Bob Labriola
Coach Bill Cowher has promised a competitive training camp, and while the competition for the rookies will be for roster spots, there also will be battles for starting jobs, for playing time and for opportunities within the offensive and defensive game plans.
The Steelers report to St. Vincent College at 6 p.m. on Sunday, and their first day of practices will be on Tuesday, with the annual run-test in between.
Today, there are 86 players on the team?s roster (six of those have NFL Europe exemptions); on Sept. 3, 53 will make the final roster. Most of those who make it, as well as most of those who don?t, will determine their own fates based on what happens during the 26 days they are in Latrobe.
The following is a look at each unit on the team as training camp is set to open:
QUARTERBACK ? Ben Roethlisberger is the starter, and the Steelers also are blessed to have three other veterans competing for roster spots at the position. Tommy Maddox has started 32 games, including playoffs, for the Steelers during his four seasons here, and that kind of experience within a system is valuable to a coaching staff. Charlie Batch has played in only four games with the Steelers, but he has 46 career NFL starts; Brian St. Pierre is beginning his third season with the team and had his moments during the OTAs this spring. There aren?t many teams with camp rosters to rival the Steelers? depth of experience here.
RUNNING BACKS ? There will be a lot of competition among the nine players here for roster spots, as well as for playing time. For the most part, Cowher has chosen to open the season with five running backs. Jerome Bettis is back for another season in what is generally accepted will be a Hall of Fame career, and Duce Staley should be more comfortable with the team and its offense as he begins his second year here. Dan Kreider has started at fullback full-time since 2002. Verron Haynes has played both halfback and fullback; Willie Parker burst onto the scene last year as an undrafted rookie with difference-making speed; and Matt Cushing has been moved to fullback full-time after spending most of his time in the past couple of seasons at tight end. The newcomers are Noah Herron, John Kuhn and Zach Tuiasosopo, and each one has enough potential to make things interesting.
WIDE RECEIVERS ? This will be among the most competitive areas of camp. Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson are three proven players, and Lee Mays will begin his fourth training camp with the team. Sean Morey was claimed off waivers in 2004 for special teams, and he is learning the position; No. 4 pick Fred Gibson has intriguing size and speed; Zamir Cobb will be looking to duplicate the camp magic he conjured last summer before injuring his leg. Sam Simmons, Nate Washington, Chris Collins and Walter Young round out the roster here.
TIGHT ENDS ? Much of the attention will be focused on No. 1 pick Heath Miller, but second-year pro Matt Kranchick has added strength to go along with the speed that enticed the team to draft him in 2004. Jerame Tuman is a returning starter, and Marco Battaglia and Walter Rasby are experienced, both with the Steelers and in the NFL in general.
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