First test comes for Steelers rookies with team's three-day camp
They've got to start somewhere. For the Steelers' nine draft picks, nine undrafted rookie free agents and 20 tryout players, that somewhere is the three-day rookie camp that starts Friday.
The Steelers will gather an uncommonly large number of players — 52, including 14 first-year players — to review their playbook, go through drills and begin learning their system.
The question, of course, is how many will be around by the time the Steelers make their final preseason cuts Aug. 29.
There already was an internal buzz to see picks such as linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kick returner-running back Dri Archer and wide receiver Martavis Bryant in uniform — even if there won't be any veteran players around.
Given the Steelers' roster situation, it's a group that likely will be asked to provide multiple starters, in addition to the quality depth that was lacking at several positions during the 8-8 seasons of 2012 and 2013.
But what the Steelers really have can't be determined until they start practice, and that first step will be taken Friday on the South Side.
“I think they (the rookies) have a chance to start — if they earn it,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “There have been some years where we've had an extremely strong unit, and that makes it a tough nut to crack. We'll see what this unit is made of.”
Once the rookies begin blending in with the veterans during the four weeks of organized team activities that begin May 27, the Steelers can start figuring out if, for example, Tuitt can compete to start at defensive end, and if Bryant is polished enough to push Markus Wheaton at wide receiver.
This weekend's camp will allow the Steelers to get their first extended look at their two intriguing sixth-round picks — Jordan Zumwalt, a UCLA linebacker whose on-field aggressiveness has been called Steelers-like, and 352-pound nose tackle Daniel McCullers.
Zumwalt will be expected to contribute on special teams immediately. McCullers will be a project, and a big one.
“He goes to the Senior Bowl and does some things, which make you really say ‘wow,' ” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “He's a nice, big guy to work with. Big guys are hard to come by these days.”
The first-year players, some of whom were on the practice squad last season, include Justin Brown, the former Oklahoma and Penn State receiver who was a sixth-round pick last year, and former LSU punter Brad Wing.
Among the 20 players invited to camp is former Jeannette High running back Jordan Hall, who followed much-publicized teammate Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and ran for 1,568 yards and 14 touchdowns there.