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Insider Only Steelers Pre-Game Analysis: Position by Position of key roster battles to watch vs Giants

Pittsburgh+Steelers+Minicamp+3xtEr-tKO-bt ROSTER BATTLES TO WATCH VS GIANTS
On Monday we released our first of four 53-Man Projected Roster. Here is a look at key roster battles to watch tonight in Preseason Game No. 1 vs the Giants.

Quarterbacks
Locks: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski
Likely to make team (75% or better): Landry Jones
On the bubble: None
What to watch for: Landry Jones has looked like an improved quarterback at times in camp and other days he looks more and more like a wasted draft pick. While his roster spot is pretty secure because of his draft status, this is a big preseason to see if he’s actually improved like the coaches think he has. Rookie Brendon Kay should get a few series in the 4th quarter

Running Backs
Locks: Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson (fullback)
Likely to make the team: None
On the bubble: Tauren Poole, Miguel Maysonet, Josh Harris, Jordan Hall
What to Watch For: A lot of eyes will be on Dri Archer as it’s much harder to get players like Archer out in space in games than practices. There isn’t a 4th running back worth keeping and unless the Steelers nab someone on waivers or via trade like last year with Felix Jones, it appears Pittsburgh will go with three running backs and one fullback. Of the rest, mostly practice squad candidates, Tauren Poole is the best of the bunch, while Jordan Hall might be the best blocker of the four. We’ll see if one of them separates from the pack.

Wide Receivers
Locks: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant
Likely to make team (75% or better): Justin Brown
On the bubble: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye
What to Watch For: Martavis Bryant is coming off a very strong week of practices. He’ll be a key player to monitor tonight. I’d put Justin Brown at a near 95% chance to make the team as he is well above the rest of the pack, has the trust of Ben Roethlisberger, coaching staff, but he still needs to show something in games to 100% lock down a spot. A solid game tonight could do that. It’s his roster spot to lose right now. As for the others, Darrius Heyward-Bey is not a lock to even play tonight, another blow to his small chances of making the team. Derek Moye is out of practice eligibility and with Brown’s emergence, his only shot of making the team is if the Steelers carry six wide receivers.

Tight Ends
Locks: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth
Likely to make team (75% or better): Michael Palmer
On the Bubble: David Paulson, Eric Waters, Rob Blanchflower
What to Watch For: Michael Palmer has a good hold on the third tight end spot but undrafted free agent Eric Waters, a solid blocker, has been making some noise and is closing the gap. Waters is a much superior blocker to David Paulson. Injuries have 7th round pick Rob Blanchflower behind the 8-ball.

Offensive Linemen
Locks: Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Cody Wallace, Mike Adams
Likely to make team: (75% or better): Guy Whimper
On the bubble: Wesley Johnson, Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning, Chris Elkins
What to Watch for: I’m not comfortable calling Mike Adams a lock, that’s how bad he has been, but being a second round pick, he’s not getting cut. Adams has showed no improvement as a pass blocker and he’ll be a top player on the O-line to watch tonight. Adams struggles have increased the chances of the Steelers keeping veteran tackle Guy Whimper. The final O-line spot is wide open and can be anyone’s taking. 5th round pick Wesley Johnson has the most upside and Steelers coaches like his versatility but he might be a player the Steelers could hide on the practice squad.

Defensive Line
Locks: Stephon Tuitt, Steve McLendon, Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas
Likely to make team: (75% or better): Daniel McCullers
On the bubble: Hebron Fangupo, Brian Arnfelt
What to Watch for: Stephon Tuitt has showed unique athleticism and speed for a big guy and he’s among the top defensive players to watch tonight. He’ll go against Justin Pugh tonight, the Giants top pick last year. Rookie Daniel McCullers can be absolute dominant at times or be non-existent for very long stretches, why he’s a late round pick. He’ll be an interesting player to watch and his massive size and potential upside has him a near lock to make the team. If the Steelers carry six defensive lineman, Hebron Fangupo, Brian Arnfelt are the top candidates in contention, while rookie Josh Mauro out-performed Arnfelt this week in practices and appears to be impressing the coaches. A sleeper to watch.

Linebackers
Locks: Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Vince Williams, Sean Spence
Likely to make team (75% or better): Terence Garvin
On the bubble: Chris Carter, Jordan Zumwalt, Howard Jones.
What to watch for: No Ryan Shazier tonight, which will put the spotlight on Sean Spence to see extensive time in the first half. He has looked very good in camp playing the run but is he as dynamic in coverage as he was in college? Unknown at this point. Backups Arthur Moats, Vince Williams have also shined in camp. We have seven linebackers as locks with Terence Garvin in the lead for the 8th linebacker spot. Garvin’s spot is far from secure but he’s regarded as being in the drivers seat to making the team. Chris Carter is certainly on the bubble with Jordan Zumwalt and Howard Jones pushing for a spot. Jones has showed the ability to rush the passer in camp, we’ll see if it translates to the field tonight.


Cornerbacks
Locks: Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor, Will Gay, Antwon Blake
On the bubble: Brice McCain, Shaquille Richardson, Isaiah Green
What to watch for: Keep an eye on Antwon Blake, a special teams wizard but despite his lack of size, has flashed serious potential at cornerback. In our first projected 53-man roster this week, we have the Steelers taking six cornerbacks but if they only take five, an interesting battle is brewing between Brice McCain and rookie Shaquille Richardson. McCain is the better player now and has outperformed Richardson for much of camp.

Safeties
Locks: Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas
Likely to make team (75% or better): Robert Golden
What to watch for: Polamalu, Mitchell will play sparingly, if at all. The development of Shamarko Thomas has been fun to watch in camp. He’s flashed some Bob Sanders type abilities out there. UDFA Jordan Dangerfield has tailed off in the past week after being a training camp sensation early on. With Robert Golden highly regarded by special teams coach Danny Smith, Dangerfield goes into preseason action with the odds stacked against him but the kid can play.

Punters
What to watch for: Brad Wing has been crushing the ball this week in practice and with Adam Podlesh still not around, tonight is a good opportunity for Wing to make a good impression in pressure situations.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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