Training camp is right around the corner, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will carry 91 men into camp this year. How do you know who to watch? What position battles are key? Who are we looking to keep an eye on? Over the next couple of weeks, we will break down some of the most hotly-contested position battles for you to know where to focus. These articles will contain no predictions and no sort of outcome, just a simple what to look for. Consider this your guide to camp. Let’s have some fun!
We begin with the safety group; a position that has two entrenched starters yet will feature one of the biggest training camp battles behind those top players. Of course, nobody is going to take Sean Davis’ or Terrell Edmunds’ spot. These two are going into their second year commanding the backend together and we all expect to see improved play from them. The biggest thing to look for from these two in camp is health, play speed, and communication.
Davis is entering his second consecutive season as the "starter" but will take control of the free safety position for the first time in his career. Things to look for from Davis are whether he is able to get his hands on more footballs and corral them to create more turnovers. Davis will need to trust himself and what he sees. He has shown flashes but this is the year to put everything he has learned together.
Edmunds enters his second season expected to have grown. Ideally, we will see him become a more vocal player who takes on a leadership role on the back end of the defense. That starts in camp and needs to carry through as the season progresses.
Dangerfield, who seems to have been with the team for decades now (or so it feels), may be in danger of losing his spot on the 53-man roster. He played a grand total of 75 snaps on defense last season behind Edmunds; most of those snaps came as the dimebacker, which may be a spot filled by Mark Barron, Devin Bush, or Allen this season. If he were to lose a spot on defense, Dangerfield may be of value on special teams as he was one of the top three players on that unit (with Darrius Heyward-Bey and Tyler Matakevich) in 2018. With DHB gone and "Dirty Red" also in danger, the Steelers could opt to go with five safeties and keep Dangerfield for his special teams prowess and locker room leadership. So, what are we watching for from him at camp? Simply, his snap count, where he's taking reps, is he with the first or second team or has he dropped to the third team. Only time will tell.
Allen is most likely to have a spot secured with the Steelers in 2019. Head coach Mike Tomlin has been very vocal over the years about the steps he expects athletes to take in their second season, especially in conditioning. If Allen enters camp in great shape, ready to play and is quicker than he was during his rookie season, the next thing to look for is where the Steelers coaching staff plays him. He has been referred to, several times, as a linebacker by the coaching staff during the offseason, and after only one interception in four seasons at Penn State, that very well may be where Allen is best suited. Allen could also potentially take over the dimebacker role that was vacated when Morgan Burnett left the team during free agency. So, alongside conditioning, the biggest thing to watch with Allen is how he's utilized.
The third group to compete for a spot on the roster at the safety position includes P.J. Locke, Dravon Askew-Henry, and Kameron Kelly.
Locke is a hard-hitting, hard worker that has Steelers fans excited and reminiscing about the days of Ryan Clark. He very well may take a spot on this roster, especially if he keeps listening to Clark.
@PjLocke4 Has already reached out to me. I have so much respect for this kid already. Soon as he signed we connected! He is gonna work his butt off. Trust me. Hope he is so much better than I was https://t.co/tGYnOi0smd
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) May 6, 2019
Locke is a leader on the field and a tone-setter. He has shown that he can get sealed off when he gets in the trees and can be wiped from a play completely. With only three interceptions in college (Texas), the thing to watch from Locke at training camp will be how he steps up as a leader and how he sets the tone when he's on the field, taking snaps and making plays on the ball. As a rookie, he could see time on special teams if he has a good showing at camp but can't unseat another player in roster depth.
Consider Aliquippa native Askew-Henry in the same realm as Matakevich. He's a very hard worker who helped lead the West Virginia Mountaineers defense, but is undersized and has some athletic deficiencies. He is, however, quick to read and diagnose and possesses great instincts. Can those instincts mask what he lacks in athleticism? Will his size affect his performance at the next level? At training camp, the thing to watch from Askew-Henry - another rookie - is whether his instincts take over and allow him to play with confidence.
Locke and Askew-Henry were both honorable All-Big 12 in 2018. Locke logged 77 tackles to Askew-Henry's 54. Askew-Henry had two interceptions to Locke's one. These two will be pushed to compete - for themselves and against each other - you can count on it.
Kelly, the Alliance of American Football alum, has what I think is the upper hand at snagging the fourth safety position. As the only true free safety on the depth chart behind Davis, Kelly had five interceptions while playing for the San Diego Fleet this Spring and brings excellent size and speed to the table. At camp with the Steelers, we're looking to see how he handles a switch to the safety position after playing cornerback most of his career (including at San Diego State, plus a brief stint at receiver for the Fleet). Can Kelly take proper angles to the ball? Is he afraid to get into the scrum? Can he wrap up and tackle consistently? If he has the complete package, expect him to make a name for himself at camp.
That rounds out the safety group as it sits today. Who are you most excited about watching at camp? Who do you think makes the roster? Let us know in the comment section.