Readying for Steelers Training Camp: A Q&A With Jim Wexell
Posted Jul 28, 2009 8:45AM By JJ Cooper (RSS feed)
Joe BurnettThe Steelers will begin what appears to be a rather routine training camp on Friday. While Ben Roethlisberger's off-the-field court case will be a distraction, the Steelers head into training camp bringing back all but two of the 22 starters from last year's Super Bowl champs. To get ready for training camp, here's a Q&A with Steelers' beat writer Jim Wexell. Wexell, author of three books including Steeler Nation, has covered the Steelers since 1995. Wexell is the publisher of SteelCityInsider.com.
FanHouse: From the outside it looks like there are very few starting jobs actually on the line at training camp. William Gay seems like the new starter at CB unless something shocking happens and Lawrence Timmons has already been installed as the new inside linebacker. Do you see anywhere else where there could be a surprise starter come Week 1, or is the No. 3 wide receiver battle the biggest of training camp?
Jim Wexell: Well, J.J., let me think about this before I knee-jerk. Right guard is the favorite for any job switch. The candidates to beat Darnell Stapleton are Trai Essex and Kraig Urbik. Stapleton could also open at center if the hairline fracture in Justin Hartwig's toe doesn't heal. Deshea Townsend wants us to remember him in the RCB battle, but, yes, Gay appears to be the coaching favorite. I guess the only real battles are in the return game, with rookies Mike Wallace (KR) and Joe Burnett (PR) as the favorites. At No. 3 WR, even if Shaun McDonald proves that 2007 wasn't a fluke, the staff will want to bring Limas Sweed along and give him as much playing time as they can. Lawrence Timmons is a beastly 245 (lbs) and looking like a future All-Pro.
FH: It's definitely not a battle for a starting job, but with Charlie Batch getting older and coming off an injury, is there a chance that Dennis Dixon could beat him out, or is he very clearly still the No.2 quarterback?
JW: Dixon will give Batch a real fight. I guess it would depend upon the time of season if either one must play, because Batch inspires more confidence in the staff (and team) at this point. Dixon will have to prove himself on the field first. That could come as part of some innovative offensive package, but I haven't seen anything like that in practice.
FH: I know you've only gotten to see them in non-contact drills up to now, but which rookie(s) do you think have an ability to contribute this year?
JW: I think the return men, Wallace and Burnett, will help right away. When I asked this spring if Burnett would be active even if he doesn't know the complex nickel CB responsibilities, Townsend pointed out to me that Allen Rossum was active every game as a return man, the only year he was here. Urbik would have to pass Essex in order to get to RG, but, then again, Essex is the top backup at both tackle spots, so Urbik could play. Keenan Lewis would need an injury, but I'd make him a darkhorse for team Rookie of the Year honors because of the skill he showed in the spring. I'm certainly no scout, but he looked fast, strong and smart at CB. Ziggy Hood of course will see time as a pass-downs DT.
FH: Willie Parker went from battling for a rushing title in 2007 to struggling to stay healthy in 2008. Does he have another 1,200 yard season in him or will this year be more of a running back by committee approach with him, Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore?
JW: A wise man would look at the average shelf life of most NFL RBs and say Parker's in serious decline. But I feel he's been pushed by Mendenhall, as well as a contract drive, to get in great shape and turn in a great year. Whether he compiles that kind of yardage is another thing, because the depth in the backfield -- and the team's desire to develop Mendenhall -- will create fewer opportunities. It should be a much stronger RB corps this year.
You can read more of Wexell's coverage of the Steelers over at Steel City Insider, where this year he will also be doing live Webchats after practice in addition to his usual coverage of the team.