The Pittsburgh Steelers open training camp on July 26 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Here’s a closer look at the Steelers’ camp, which wraps up on Aug. 22:
Top storyline: The first real glimpse at the new-look defense under coordinator Keith Butler. This is the first training camp without Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor in the defensive backfield in 12 years, and the first without coordinator Dick LeBeau in 11 years. A defense known for stability could have at least four new starters and must prove in live action it can regain the fearful edge that once made it great. The Steelers made progress during offseason workouts but that’s hard to judge without live hitting. Camp will be a true barometer for whether the defense will sag behind a good offense or soar with it.
Position battles to watch: Cornerback will have its share of battles but the outside linebacker spot will be most interesting because two first-round picks (Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree) are battling with a 37-year-old menace (James Harrison) and a versatile veteran (Arthur Moats). Harrison appears in good shape and isn’t resigned to a part-time role -- he wants to be the guy. And if he is, that’s sort of a problem, because it means a first-round pick is losing out to a 37-year-old who’s been cut twice since 2013. Only two can win the job, though all four could realistically play. This is earn-your-money time for Jones, who has three career sacks in two years and looked promising early in 2014 before a wrist injury derailed his season.
Veterans to watch: Defensive end Cam Heyward will be highly motivated after earning a $59-million extension. Cortez Allen needs his reputation back after a disastrous season that included a benching and the general manager questioning his ability as a starter. The Steelers still like Allen’s skill set -- that’s why they signed him to a five-year, $26-million deal last offseason -- and hope he resurges. At 32, Heath Miller has a chance to reward the Steelers for not taking a tight end higher in the draft. He’s still a fringe top-10 pass-catcher at the position. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is fresh off his first Pro Bowl and wants his play to ensure he retires a Steeler.
Rookies to watch: Corner Senquez Golson needs a heroic camp to pry snaps from veteran William Gay in the slot. Golson is in the future plans but might have to wait his turn. If he’s impatient and takes ownership of a job, that’s good news for Pittsburgh. Sammie Coates will be buried by a deep receiving corps and must fight his way into playing time. But the former Auburn star said he plans to show he can do everything the starters can do. Watch for Coates on his specialty play, the deep ball, if Ben Roethlisberger feels so inclined. Seventh-round safety Gerod Holliman could make an early impact with his ball skills, but he must show he’s a capable tackler.
Bubble watch: Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey must use his veteran savvy to survive at a crowded position. Quarterback Landry Jones had an uneven offseason and free-agent pickup Tajh Boyd will push him for the No. 3 quarterback job. Nose tackle Steve McLendon is a lock for the 53-man roster and should play a healthy dose of snaps. But if Daniel McCullers makes a move for the nose tackle job, there goes McLendon’s chance to be Pittsburgh’s long-term answer in the middle.
Le’Veon Bell watch: Don’t be surprised if the Steelers get more first-team reps for DeAngelo Williams, who will start while Bell misses the first three games due to suspension. The Steelers must keep Bell fresh and engaged while working Williams into the rhythm of the offense. Bell’s role as the primary back is unquestioned, and he will get most of the carries early on. At some point in August, that might change.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Pittsburgh Steelers’ clubhouse page.