The Pittsburgh Steelers open training camp on Friday and they return 21 of 22 starters from their Super Bowl winning team.
There will be few position battles in camp but one situation to keep an eye on is the right guard position.
Current starter Darnell Stapleton enters his first training camp as a starter and the starting right job position is his to lose.
Stapleton, 23, (6-3, 305lbs) started 14 games for the Steelers in 2008 and head coach Mike Tomlin is a big believer in Stapleton.
Stapleton is versatile and can also play center, his natural position.
Despite the coaching staff being very high on Stapleton, the organization would like to get bigger on their interior line.
The Steelers drafted offensive guard Kraig Urbik (6-5, 323lbs) in the third round. Urbik will be the teams starting right guard at somepoint in the near future, maybe even this season, but will not be a factor in training camp to beat out Stapleton.
The player who is a darkhorse to beat out Stapleton is Trai Essex (6-4, 324 lbs). Essex a 3rd round pick in 2005, signed a two year deal in the off-season to remain with the Super Bowl champions.
Essex had a very good camp last summer and is much more comfortable playing guard than tackle.
Team insiders believe Essex is a late bloomer and will push Stapleton in camp for a starting spot.
7/31/09: Inside look at the Steelers Depth Chart
1. Max Starks – On the heels of a new four contract, Starks enters his first full season as the Steelers starting left tackle. At age 27, Starks is still in his prime and the front office believes he only going to get better.
2. Tony Hills – The Steelers 2008 4th round pick, Hills has made little progression from year 1 to year 2. Struggles with his footwork and he must make great strides in camp to keep a roster spot. For now he is number 2 on the depth chart but if he doesn’t develop to the point that the Steelers want to see, Hills will not be dressing on game days and possibility won’t make the roster.
*If Starks goes down with an injury, Trai Essex will step in for him
3. Player to Watch OT Ramon Foster (Tennessee)
Foster, 23, (6-6, 326lbs) caught the eye of the coaching staff
in mini camp. Plays with a fierce demenor, good footwork and has the opportunity to push Tony Hills.
1. Chris Kemoeatu – Enters his second full season as the Steelers starting left guard. The Steelers are believers in him, locking him up to a 5 year contract worth $20 million. Had an inconsistent 08 season but should keep developing.
2. Kraig Urbik – Steelers 3rd round choice in 2009, the Steelers expect big things from Urbik. Eventually he will be the Steelers start at right guard but is currently penciled in behind Kemoeatu at left guard.
3. Jeremy Parquet – Filling a roster spot in camp.
1. Justin Hartwig – Enters his second season as the Steelers starting center. Suffered a broken toe a few weeks ago but doesn’t expect to be limited in camp. Played better down the stretch but is not the Steelers long-term answer at center.
2. Darnell Stapleton – Stapleton the Steelers starting right guard, will be #2 on the depth chart if Hartwig were to go down with an injury.
3. Greg Warren – Steelers longsnapper
4. A.Q. Shipley – The Steelers beleive they got a late 4th round value when they drafted A.Q. Shipley in the 7th round. A hardworker, student of the game. Will have the opportunity to learn the position for a year.
*Also 2009 3rd round pick, Kraig Urbik will get some reps at center.
1. Darnell Stapleton – Stapleton filled in admirably for Kendall Simmons last year and enters camp as the Steelers starting right guard. Will also get some reps at center, his natural position.
2. Trai Essex – At 6-4, 324lbs, Essex has the opportunity to push Stapleton for a starting spot. The Steelers would like to get bigger on their interior line. Essex is a darkhorse, although Mike Tomlin is very high on Stapleton. Essex will also get some looks at left guard, tackle.
1. Willie Colon – There is always some buzz that Willie Colon will get some looks at guard in training camp but that won’t be the case again this year. The Steelers are high on Colon who they feel is one of the teams top run blockers. His position is secure on the offensive line.
2. Jason Capizzi – At 6-9, 330 lbs the Steelers like Capizze but he struggles with footwork and is not mobile enough to be a contributor in the NFl.