Friday marked the beginning of training camp 2009 for our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. Camp Tomlin will be but the first step in what is sure to be another glorious season for the Black and Gold.
The Steelers are very fortunate in that unlike the last time they were defending champs, this team has suffered no major losses during the off season. Still, as it is with every training camp, there will be some positions up for grabs. I thought I’d highlight some of the key training camp battles for you now.
Dennis Dixon vs. Charlie Batch for the #2 Quarterback spot – I don’t watch many preseason games. I know I probably should, being a self-appointed expert on all things Steelers, but I just can’t stay interested in watching third or fourth string guys knowing most will never see playing time during an actual game and many won’t even make the final cut. However, I did watch one game start to finish last year and if you saw this game, I’m sure you remember it as the “Dennis Dixon Show.” He blasted off a 47 yard touchdown scramble that was like a flashback to the glory days of Kordell Stewart.
Dixon is a superior athlete who coming out of college was a Heisman contender and likely 1st Round pick until he totally blew out his ACL. He wasn’t ready for the job last year but with that injury another year behind him and having another year to learn our offense, Dixon’s tremendous ability could earn him to the #2 QB spot behind Ben Roethlisberger.
Charlie Batch has long been deemed “The best backup in the NFL,” although at 34 years of age and coming off a broken clavicle, his best days are probably behind him. Dixon is the future. One has to think if DD shows he can handle the offense at a level anywhere close to equal with Batch, the backup job will be his.
An added bonus to DD taking the job is we may see the Steeler run their own version of the Wildcat with him under center. NFL rules state a #3 QB can only enter the game when the other two QBs are injured and then cannot come out even if they’re ready to return so that prevented them from going Wildcat last season. With Dixon as the #2, it could very well be in the playbook.
Which brings up Michael Vick. There has been an absolutely ridiculous rumor floating around that the Steelers are somehow interested in this clown. First off, we already had a player like him, we called him Slash and he was better than Vick in every way. Secondly, the Steelers do not welcome felons and criminals with open arms. Try the Bengals. Lastly, we invested a high draft pick on DD, who is also a running Wildcat-type QB, why would we then sign a player exactly like him except older and with more baggage than USAir?
The only way this scenario could remotely be possible is if one of our backup QBs are lost to a season ending injury. Much like last year, the Steelers would go into a Byron Leftwich scenario where they’d try to find an unemployed veteran on the cheap. However, even that’s iffy because Vick hasn’t played football for two years.
Carey Davis vs. Sean McHugh for starting fullback - Head coach Mike Tomlin declared this job was up for grabs early in the off season. About time. I’ll never understand how Davis won the job and/or continued to hold the job in the first place. His blocking is terrible, he can’t run with the ball, and the only reason they supposedly liked him was he could catch out of the backfield. This worked out to the tune of a whopping 5 catches last season.
McHugh, a converted tight end we picked up from the Detroit Lions, isn’t much of a threat, either. But he can block. The most effective running attack the Steelers had last year was when they lined up in the I-formation with McHugh leading the way. I have to think McHugh wins this job unless Tomlin’s odd fascination with Davis manages to win out yet again.
Kraig Urbik vs Darnell Stapleton for starting RG - Stapleton replaced starter Kendall Simmons, who tore his Achilles Tendon in that Monday Night Bloodbath against the Ravens (3 players were lost for the year in that game). Simmons was released as reports were his rehab was coming along very slowly and he was not expected to be able to play this year.
Stapleton is an undersized RG who survives in the NFL thanks to very quick feet for an OL. Thus, his strength is in pass protection. He lacks the power and bulk to be an effective run blocker, though.
Urbik, a third round pick out of Wisconsin, is 6’6 330 pounds. It’s safe to say he has size and bulk. We haven’t seen him yet but the book on him is he’s very much like Chris Kemoteau, a big plodding mauler. He’ll likely act as a bulldozer in the run game with the only question being if he has the quickness to handle NFL caliber pass rushers.
In other words, we have one RG who can pass block but not run block and another RG who can run block but might be a human pylon. One of them will start for us. Yay.
Stefan Logan vs. Joe Burnett vs. Mike Wallace for return man - If there’s one area the Steelers are absolutely embarrassing, it’s the return game. Our best KR last season was Gary Russell. Yes, a slow third string RB who caught the ball and barreled ahead was our best option at that position. Sad.
Russell was cut due to character issues so his place is going to be taken by one of three candidates. Burnett and Wallace are rookies, brought in mainly for their return prowess in college. Both have good speed and nice credentials but so did Willie Reid and we all know how that turned out.
Logan might be the most intriguing player in camp this year. He’s an itty bitty guy (5’6) we rescued from the Canadian Football League. He excelled in their wide open game as a scatback and return man. Since we already have Mewelde Moore as a 3rd down back, Logan is going to be looked at as a returner, which he did very well in the CFL. Again, I have not seen him yet but have heard people say he is very Devin Hester-ish in his speed and field vision. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Limas Sweed vs. Shaun McDonald for the #3 receiver spot - This is Sweed’s job to lose. The Steelers invested a 2nd round pick in him which many thought was a steal because he was projected as a late first rounder. He played sparingly last year and then when he did get a look late in the season/playoffs, he had several horrible drops. I’m not ready to give up on him, though. Hands are something that can be worked on, speed and getting open are usually not. Sweed can get open. He also showed a nice mean streak when he obliterated Ravens CB Corey Ivy in the AFC Championship Game.
However, if Sweed continues to make groan-worthy drops, the Steelers won’t hesitate to install Shaun McDonald in the slot. McDonald is a six year veteran although still only 28 years old. He had a career year in 2007 when he caught 6 TDs and piled up 943 yards. His numbers suffered last year which isn’t shocking when one looks at the embarrassing string of QBs the Lions had throwing to him. Unless he comes into camp completely out of shape of makes inappropriate Irish jokes in front of the Rooneys, I can’t see him not making the team. The only question is whether Sweed will play himself out of playing time or McDonald will play himself in.
Football’s back, baby!
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