Pittsburgh Steelers training camp preview: Quarterback isn't the only position battle

All eyes will be on which quarterback fills the shoes of the retired Ben Roethlisberger, but that won't be the only position battle in camp. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers report to 2022 NFL training camp on Tuesday at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:

The most compelling position battle: The quarterbacks will be engaged in the most important position battle, but it’s not necessarily the most compelling. Mitch Trubisky appears to have a significant advantage over Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph, and barring an upset, he’ll likely be the starting quarterback in Week 1. Instead, keep an eye on the battle for left guard. After his move to center didn’t pan out, second-year lineman Kendrick Green battled with third-year guard Kevin Dotson at left guard throughout OTAs and minicamp. Green primarily played guard at Illinois, and former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger advocated for Green to move to guard after the season. Dotson started nine games last season but dealt with nagging ankle injuries. The competition between the two won’t be the flashiest, but after another season of dismal offensive line play and another new offensive line coach in Pat Meyer, the success of the revamped offensive line will be a significant factor in the Steelers’ direction this season.

The player with the most to prove: Devin Bush. Bush is entering the final year of his contract after the Steelers declined to pick up his fifth-year option. The former first-round pick had a frustrating 2021 season, his first after tearing an ACL midway through a promising 2020 campaign. While Bush appeared to be physically recovered from the tear, mentally, he appeared overly cautious and hesitated in crucial moments. He finished the season with 70 total tackles, good for sixth on the team. Another year out from the surgery, Bush enters a make-or-break season -- especially with the addition of senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, who will also be working closely with the linebackers. The Steelers also added inside linebacker Myles Jack, another player Bush can learn from -- and one who will push him beginning with training camp.

The biggest question: Did the Steelers do enough to improve their run defense? Despite having the defensive player of the year on the roster in T.J. Watt, the Steelers’ defense was uncharacteristically dismal at stopping the run in 2021. The defense allowed a league-worst 2,483 rushing yards and 5 yards per carry. Stephon Tuitt, who was absent for the 2021 season, officially retired earlier this summer, creating an even bigger hole in the run defense. The Steelers get back Tyson Alualu, who missed most of 2021 with a fractured ankle, and acquired former Cleveland Brown and Cincinnati Bengal Larry Ogunjobi. Inside linebackers Jack and Bush should also bolster the group -- especially if Bush plays up to his potential.

Training camp is a success if … the Steelers emerge with an unquestioned starting quarterback. The Steelers are entering uncharted territory for the first time in nearly two decades. Roethlisberger retired, and the job is technically up for grabs. Trubisky, though, appears to have the inside track after a strong showing in OTAs and minicamp. For the Steelers to get off to a good start through their opening gauntlet -- at Cincinnati, vs. New England, at Cleveland -- they need a definitive leader at the quarterback position.

Fiercest fantasy-relevant battle: Diontae Johnson vs. the field. Johnson was the Steelers' top receiver and a favorite target of Roethlisberger a year ago. He struggled with drops down the stretch but still put up impressive final numbers, with 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns on 107 receptions. Though Johnson enters camp as the Steelers’ top receiver -- and in search of a big-time contract -- he’ll have to build chemistry with the new quarterbacks and prove he’s fully moved past the inconsistencies that plagued him late in the season. While Johnson has the most seniority in the room, he’ll also be competing with Chase Claypool, George Pickens and Calvin Austin III for targets, along with pass-catching tight end Pat Freiermuth. With the ball distribution murky, training camp will go a long way in establishing which Steelers receivers -- if any -- are worthy of being selected in fantasy football drafts.

Camp prediction: Pickett will finish camp as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback. Pickett, the Steelers’ first-round pick, took third-string reps throughout minicamp and OTAs, and with Trubisky and Rudolph in front of him, there’s a good chance he finishes training camp in the same place. With two other veteran quarterbacks on the roster, the Steelers aren’t rushing Pickett’s development. They can afford to be patient with the rookie and put him in a position to take over in the future by moving him along slowly and deliberately in his first year in the NFL. Trubisky has plenty of starting quarterback experience and is already emerging as a leader -- plus his skill set matches offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s preference for pre-snap motion and quick throws. Rudolph looked steady in offseason training and was more consistent than Pickett.