Five Players To Watch At Training Camp

With the beginning of training camp two weeks away, it’s time to examine the the names to watch as the Steelers’ season kicks into full gear.

Markus Wheaton

Last year’s third round pick may become the most watched player during camp. Wheaton came into Pittsburgh last seasons just as Mike Wallace left the team through free agency. Immediately, comparisons were made to Wallace, who was also a third round draft pick; but expectations quickly faded as a number of injuries offset Wheaton’s ability to stay on the field and find a rhythm with the offense.

At the moment Wheaton should take over the #2 WR spot, replacing the departed Emmanuel Sanders. Training camp could be boom or bust, as several other receivers, including free agent signee Darrius Heyward-Bey and this year’s fourth round selection Martavis Bryant, are competing for the Sanders’ old spot.

Wheaton must fill the void left by the players preceding him, or risk being reduced to a lesser role. With this year’s receiver talent, failure is not an option for Wheaton, and he may not find himself in this position again, if he loses the #2 job to another player.

Dri Archer

Whether it’s good or bad, everyone is talking about Archer. The buzz around Archer is how the Steelers plan to utilize the draft’s fastest player in their offense. Like Wheaton, Archer was selected in the third round, causing chatter if Pittsburgh reached too high to select a running back, or whether they got the steal of the draft. However, analysts can’t decide whether to label Archer a receiver or a running back.

A number of inquiries have been made to GM Kevin Colbert, and coaches Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley, on how they plan to get Archer touches. Each answer borderlines on the vagueness of a top secret project, alluding to Archer lining up in the backfield, as a receiver in the slot, or returning kicks and punts. Regardless, all eyes will be focused on Archer during practice and preseason games.

Ryan Shazier

For all of the buzz surrounding Archer, Ryan Shazier has had the opposite amount of attention. Despite being a first round pick and the 15th player selected over in 2014’s draft, there has been virtually nothing said about Shazier. That should come as a surprise, as the rookie looks to firmly grab a hold of the other inside linebacker position alongside veteran Lawrence Timmons.

The reason more eyes should be on Shazier is due more to a lack of production from the inside backers as opposed to Shazier’s talents. A quick, hard-hitting player, the former Ohio State Buckeye was selected to upgrade a spot last occupied by defensive captain Larry Foote, who fell victim to a season-ending injury in the first game of 2013. Foote’s first replacement, undrafted Kion Wilson, started two games and was released from the team shortly thereafter.

2013 sixth round pick Vince Williams, secured the starting job for the remainder of the season. Williams was a surprise fill-in, excelling at the running game, however, he was a liability on passing downs. Shazier’s combination of speed and agility, which have been compared to Troy Polamalu, should allow the Steelers to remain in the base defense more often. In addition, it’s rumored Shazier will be utilized on the defense much like Archer is moved around on the offense, allowing greater flexibility in Dick Lebeau’s schemes.

Jarvis Jones

Last year’s first round pick may be watched more this year than he was last year: with the team releasing former Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley, and Jason Worilds operating on a one year contract, it’s imperative Jarvis Jones breaks out as a star player.

With only 1 sack last season, the Steelers were criticized for selecting Jones high in the draft, citing the team pressured themselves into selecting an OLB over other positions. At the time, how Jason Worilds would fit into the picture was still unknown.

A year removed from Jones’ rookie season, the pressure on the linebacker could vary from little to large. On the low end, Jones can make the contributions of LaMarr Woodley a distant memory if he can match Woodley’s previous two-season averages of 23.5 tackles and 4.5 sacks (Jones had 27 tackles last season.)

On the high end, Jones may need to match his counterpart, Jason Worilds, who he may need to replace, should Pittsburgh not reach a long-term deal with the ROLB, or if Worilds fails to pan out, after having a breakout year himself.

In either scenario, Jones needs to solidify himself as a top tier player, as the Steelers lack proven backups behind Jones and Worilds.

Adam Podlesh

All eyes on a… punter? We joke around about special teams players quite a bit, but they are large contributors to the team as a whole. Since the Steelers went through a total of 4 players at the position in 2013, the camp battle between Podlesh and rookie Brad Wing, deserves attention.

The club found themselves giving up terrible field position at inopportune moments during the 2013 campaign. While many people viewed defense as an issue, there’s only so much defenders can do when opposing teams start their drives at their 40 yard line or better.

During last year’s preseason, neither punter in camp made the final roster. This is why all eyes will be on this competition.

Podlesh, the former Chicago Bear, is two years removed from career numbers. However, he had the worst season of his career in 2013. The Steelers are hoping Podlesh is more of the former and not the latter.

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