It's been a long time since the 49ers screwed up their playcalling and let the Baltimore Ravens win a Superbowl. NFL fans have had months to sit around with little to talk about. Sure, Aaron Hernandez killed a guy or whatever, Robert Griffin III probably tweeted or something, and NFL Network probably ranked another 100 players because they have airtime to fill.
The ennui of a football offseason is about to come to an end though, as players will report to St. Vincent College this Friday for 2013 Training Camp. There will soon be a deluge of NFL information flooding the internet, some useless, some incredible. Yahoo and ESPN are going to maintain their excellent fantasy football systems. If you like the stakes a little bit higher, you can go to SportsBetting-Sites.com and get into putting money on games. Personally, I'm excited to see which players have pulled hamstrings before August because they didn't stay in shape over the summer (lookin at you, LaMarr).
The most important information, of course, will be who makes the team. A lot of players battle for a few spots every season, and coaches and GMs are fairly merciless about only accepting the best performances. With that in mind, here are a few battles that will be fought in Latrobe over the coming month.
Who Will Start Opposite Ike Taylor?
Cornerback has been perhaps the most thoroughly-addressed issue in recent drafts, as we've previously explored. Ike Taylor is still holding off old age and maintaining his role as shutdown corner. Knowing Keenan Lewis was likely a goner, the Steelers reacquired William Gay from Arizona. Gay will likely get the first-team reps out of the gate, but on his heels are young cornerbacks trying to make an impression in Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. If one of them manages to steal Gay's job, it won't be the biggest upset of all time but it would be a surprise. Having depth at corner is a luxury in today's pass-first NFL, and it would be great to see either of these guys rise to the challenge. If neither can beat Gay though, they'll have to top each other to get regular time at nickel.
Can Cam Heyward Unseat A Starter?
The Steelers invested some high picks in their defensive line recently, first with Ziggy Hood and then two years later with Cam Heyward. Hood was underwhelming in his first stretch as a starter, and Cam Heyward could challenge him for a spot soon. On the other side, Brett Keisel has been a good soldier for the Steelers for a number of years. A high number of years, specifically. He's 34 years old and he's presumably going to decline soon. If he loses a step, it could be Cam Heyward's chance to earn a spot in the lineup. Ideally, Hood improves his game and Keisel is still going strong, and Heyward can simply rotate in and give those guys a breather when they need it, especially in Keisel's case.
Can Jason Worilds Hold Off Jarvis Jones?
Jarvis Jones wasn't a first-round pick by accident. He's born and bred to put quarterbacks in the dirt, and that's why he's a Steeler right now. This is an organization that favors seasoned veterans, but Worilds isn't exactly entrenched in the spot vacated by James Harrison. Jones is going to be a starter in the NFL sooner or later, and if he shows enough in August, Dick LeBeau will set him loose in September.
Who Is Going To Carry The Ball?
Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the first round of this year's draft, and you don't typically see a running back spend a year on the bench to start his career. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman will both make bids to be the starting halfback on opening day (although it's a position that fluctuates throughout the season), but both of them can't hold off Bell forever. Dwyer has had a good summer by all accounts, but his physical running style doesn't usually last very long in the modern NFL. Situations will call for more athleticism from the tailback position than Redman or Dwyer may be able to provide. Le'Veon Bell will definitely get his touches. He'll have to make the most of them to gain preference over the tandem of Redman and Dwyer.
Who Is Going To Catch The Ball?
Antonio Brown is settled in as the #1 wide receiver in Pittsburgh. Emmanuel Sanders is likely the #2, and the depth chart is rounded out with veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery. Aside from those four, there is a slew of young receivers trying to make their way in the NFL, headlined by rookie Markus Wheaton. Given his status as a draft pick, he'll definitely be on the team, but a big performance in August could see him rise as high as #2 starter ahead of Emmanuel Sanders. Again, the NFL is a pass-heavy league, and with Ben Roethlisberger in the driver's seat, footballs will be in the air plenty often. A strong performance by other first- and second-year players like David Gilreath or Derek Moye could potentially make Burress or Cotchery expendable. I'll settle for Wheaton claiming the #3 spot as a rookie, but the sky is the limit with this talented young group.