By Alan Robinson,
Just because a player is currently in a favorable position doesn’t mean he’ll still be there be when Steelers training camp winds down and the students — not the millionaires — occupy the Saint Vincent College dorms.
Jobs are won and lost, careers are jump-started or prematurely ended, hopes are raised and expectations are dashed every July and August. The Division I star figures out that college success doesn’t guarantee multiple Pro Bowls; the barely known Division II player realizes he could have succeeded in big-boy major college ball.
When the Steelers arrive in Latrobe on Wednesday, former franchise figureheads Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith won’t be among them; as former coach Chuck Noll said, they’ve gotten on with their life’s work. Bryant McFadden, William Gay and Chris Hoke will be missing, too.
It’s all part of the inevitable change that occurs every season as players retire or are cut. And what is about to change is the depth chart, as the camp plays out and players move up or move on.
Some position battles to watch as the Steelers go camping with coach Mike Tomlin for the sixth time:
LT Max Starks or Mike Adams: The Steelers want Adams, their second-round pick, to seize the job and become a starting lineup fixture for a decade. Starks is back in case it doesn’t happen. Adams has the size and credentials, but there’s a reason why only three rookie offensive linemen have started a Steelers opener.
RG David DeCastro or Ramon Foster: When DeCastro unexpectedly slipped to the Steelers in the draft, it appeared to be a near-lock he would start. It might still be. The Steelers are tired of Ben Roethlisberger being on his back every other series, and DeCastro could help prevent that. But remember that even Alan Faneca didn’t start the opening game of his rookie season.
CB: Keenan Lewis or Curtis Brown (Cortez Allen wants to be in here, too): Might be the single best competition in camp. Lewis is talking about Pro Bowls, but Brown is earning Dick LeBeau’s praise. And this is a position that is badly in need of an upgrade.
RB: Chris Rainey or Baron Batch: This is for the backup’s job, at least until Rashard Mendenhall (knee) returns to try to win his starter’s job back from Isaac Redman. Rainey’s speed potentially adds a different dimension to Todd Haley’s offense, but Batch might have been the breakout player of the 2011 camp until he injured a knee.
WR: Toney Clemons or Tyler Beiler: The receiver position appears set with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders, except for one backup job. Clemons and Beiler look to be the frontrunners to land it. One injury separates the No. 5 receiver from not-insignificant playing time, and this is one job that could be won during the four preseason games.
Casey Hampton (knee) might have to beat out Steve McLendon to keep his long-held starting job at nose tackle, but it remains uncertain when he will be healthy.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org