Steelers training camp preview: Breaking down the offense |

Steelers training camp preview: Breaking down the offense

Chris Adamski
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver after the trade of Antonio Brown.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is entering his 16th season.

A player-by-player look at the Steelers offense entering training camp:


Ben Roethlisberger

No. 7, 6-5, 240 | The 37-year-old Roethlisberger, entering his 16th season, is running out of time for his stated career goal of four Super Bowls. The reigning NFL passing leader continues to scale league all-time passing lists and is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, though.

Josh Dobbs

No. 5, 6-3, 216 | Dobbs unexpectedly won the backup job over veteran Landry Jones last season, but he perhaps faces a bigger challenge keeping it this year against the more highly drafted Mason Rudolph.

Mason Rudolph

No. 2, 6-5, 235 | After a year in the pros, Rudolph is on more equal footing with Dobbs in their competition for the No. 2 spot.

Devlin Hodges

No. 6, 6-1, 210 | Hodges was the NCAA Division I passing leader at Samford last season, and he made the Steelers as a rookie camp tryout. But he faces long odds because of his height and lack of arm strength.

Running backs

James Conner

No. 30, 6-2, 233 | Conner again proved doubters wrong last year with a Pro Bowl season in his first extended NFL action, easing the sting of the loss of Le’Veon Bell. Can Conner do it again? A lucrative contract extension might be at stake.

Jaylen Samuels

No. 38, 6-0, 225 | Samuels showed he could be relied on as a featured back with his 142 rushing yards during a December win against New England. It will be interesting to see how he’s deployed this season.

Benny Snell

No. 24, 5-10, 224 | Snell accumulated 3,873 rushing yards and 48 rushing touchdowns during three years in the SEC at Kentucky. An old-school back, the Steelers perhaps envision him for a short-yardage role to complement Conner.

Roosevelt Nix

No. 45, 5-11, 248 | Nix enters Year 5 as the Steelers fullback and special-teams dynamo, though he might have competition for the former role from Samuels or Sutton Smith. Only eight current players have been on the 53-man roster longer than Nix.

Trey Edmunds

No. 33, 6-2, 223 | Edmunds, the older brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, was signed to the practice squad early last season and made the active roster by December. He was a special teamer as a rookie for New Orleans in 2017.

Ralph Webb

No. 40, 5-10, 200 | Like Snell, Webb produced in the SEC: 4,178 career rushing yards for Vanderbilt. He spent time on the practice squad of three teams last season and has been with the Steelers since December.

Travon McMillian

No. 35, 6-0, 209 | Once a highly recruited quarterback, McMillian recorded 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Virginia Tech and Colorado. He has intriguing athleticism.

Malik Williams

No. 39, 6-3, 221 | A bruising back, Williams was buried on the depth chart at Louisville. He had only 67 carries as a senior after two seasons in junior college. He spent last year’s training camp with the Falcons.

Wide receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster

No. 19, 6-1, 215 | Smith-Schuster’s meteoric rise over about a 14-month span from late 2017 until Antonio Brown’s trade request in January has culminated with massive expectations for his third NFL season. A productive one would result in an equally massive contract extension in 2020.

Donte Moncrief

No. 11, 6-2, 216 | The veteran was signed as something of an insurance policy to be the No. 2 WR if none of the team’s talented young pass-catchers pan out. Worst-case scenario is he provides quality depth. Moncrief will get to work with a top QB for the first time since 2014.

James Washington

No. 13, 5-11, 213 | It’s fair to say Washington was one of the Steelers’ bigger disappointments last season. That might be in part because unrealistic expectations were heaved upon him, but the Steelers are hopeful for a Year 2 breakout.

Ryan Switzer

No. 10, 5-8, 185 | Acquired via a late-August trade, Switzer filled a variety of roles last season: punt returner, kickoff returner, slot receiver, third-down back and safety valve in the passing game. Will he maintain all of those roles this season?

Eli Rogers

No. 17, 5-10, 187 | A torn ACL limited Rogers to three games last season. In 2016, he showed he could be an effective slot receiver (48 catches), but he slipped to 18 catches in 2017. Can he again show that early form?

Diontae Johnson

No. 18, 5-10, 183 | Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Steelers’ draft was taking Johnson high in the third round with a pick they acquired in the Brown deal. The comparisons to Brown are many, but Johnson has a long way to go to make an impact this season.

Johnny Holton

No. 80, 6-3, 190 | The Steelers declined to re-sign Darrius Heyward-Bey after five seasons with the team, and Holton was brought in as something of a clone. He’s fast and an accomplished “gunner” on special teams.

Diontae Spencer

No. 82, 5-8, 170 | A CFL All-Star the past two seasons who set a league record for all-purpose yards in a game (496), Spencer turned heads during OTAs and minicamp. He will be an intriguing player to watch in the preseason to see if his skills translate against NFL talent.

Tevin Jones

No. 14, 6-2, 225 | Jones has good size and speed, and he has a full year of experience within the Steelers system via their practice squad. He has flashed playmaking ability in the preseason, but the wide receivers depth chart is daunting.

Trey Griffey

No. 15, 6-3, 192 | Griffey, the son of MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., has a similar profile to Jones. Griffey’s second NFL training camp in 2018 was enough to earn a spot on the Steelers practice squad.

Tight ends

Vance McDonald

No. 89, 6-4, 267 | Now the unquestioned No. 1 tight end, McDonald is coming off a career year in which he stayed relatively healthy, something that had bogged down his career in the past. McDonald is a sleeper for a big receiving season.

Xavier Grimble

No. 85, 6-4, 261 | Grimble slides up into the TE2 role after Jesse James’ departure. That’s potentially huge for Grimble as he enters his contract year. However, he must show enough in camp to dissuade the Steelers from acquiring another veteran.

Zach Gentry

No. 81, 6-8, 265 | After Grimble, there is a precipitous drop-off in experience at tight end. The Steelers took Gentry in the fifth round of the draft for a reason, but the former QB has played only three years at the position (all in college) and just one as a starter.

Kevin Rader

No. 87, 6-4, 250 | A Pine-Richland alum who played at Youngstown State, Rader is a blocking tight end who had 41 catches in college and hopes to show enough to nab an available roster spot.

Christian Scotland-Williamson

No. 49, 6-9, 274 | A former pro rugby player from London, Scotland-Williamson is in his second year of a roster exemption for the Steelers under the International Player Pathway program. He has worked hard to improve over his time in Pittsburgh.

Trevor Wood

No. 88, 6-6, 265 | Also listed as a long snapper, Wood’s focus is at tight end after a college career at Arizona (2014-17) and Texas A&M (2018) in which he caught 11 passes for 80 yards.


Maurkice Pouncey

No. 53, 6-4, 304 | Pouncey likely is on track for a bust in Canton if he stays healthy. The center turns 30 this week, and he already has been named to seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. Pouncey signed a two-year contract extension this spring.

David DeCastro

No. 66, 6-5, 316 | DeCastro is on a similar track as Pouncey. DeCastro is 29 and has three first- or second-team All-Pro selections at right guard. Last season, he missed time because of injury for the first time since his rookie season in 2012.

Ramon Foster

No. 73, 6-5, 328 | This will be Foster’s 12th season, most of which as the starting left guard. The only players who have been with Pittsburgh pro sports teams longer are named Roethlisberger, Crosby, Malkin and Letang.

B.J. Finney

No. 67, 6-4, 318 | Finney is one of the NFL’s highest-paid backup interior offensive linemen. That likely won’t be the case next season since he is due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020. A strong year could earn him a big contract elsewhere.

Patrick Morris

No. 62, 6-3, 300 | Morris spent all of last season on the practice squad, the next man up on the center depth chart. He could be poised to inherent the No. 2 role from Finney in 2020, assuming Morris can hold off challengers.

J.C. Hassenauer

No. 60, 6-2, 295 | A top center recruit who went to Alabama, Hassenauer was mostly a backup for the perennial national title contenders. But he spent several months with the Falcons last year and was a starter in the AAF in the spring. He could push Morris.

Fred Johnson

No. 74, 6-7, 326 | A mammoth rookie guard out of Florida, Johnson is the type of high-ceiling raw prospect the Steelers are drawn to. Even with position coach Mike Munchak gone, Johnson has potential. But he has to show enough at camp to earn a spot.

Garrett Brumfield

No. 68, 6-4, 302 | An undrafted rookie from LSU, Brumfield was rated the No. 1 guard in the country coming out of high school, so the raw talent is there. Brumfield is a strong candidate to make the practice squad.

Offensive tackles

Alejandro Villanueva

No. 78, 6-9, 320 | Villanueva is one of the Steelers’ greatest success stories in developing unheralded talent. This will be his fifth season as the starter at left tackle, and he has made two Pro Bowls. Another strong season will earn Villanueva a lucrative extension next year.

Matt Feiler

No. 71, 6-6, 330 | Feiler has the inside track to take over the starting right tackle job on a permanent basis; he started 10 games there last season after injuries to Marcus Gilbert. Feiler also would be in line for a big-money contract if he seizes the gig and performs well.

Chuks Okorafor

No. 76, 6-6, 320 | Okorafor was taken in the third round of last year’s draft, and nothing during his rookie season suggested that was a mistake. But if he doesn’t beat out Feiler, Okorafor becomes a man without a defined role. It’s likely Okorafor serves as the swing tackle in 2019.

Jerald Hawkins

No. 65, 6-6, 305 | Hawkins has lost two of his first three NFL seasons to injury, and suddenly he’s entering the final year of a rookie contract signed as a fourth-round pick in 2016. Even if he has a strong camp, it might not be enough to leap Feiler or Okorafor.

Zach Banner

No. 72, 6-8, 360 | In a telling sign of how much potential the Steelers see in Banner, they kept him on their 53-man roster all of last season. But offensive tackle is a crowded and deep position for the Steelers, so barring injury, it’s tough to see where Banner fits in.

Derwin Gray

No. 77, 6-4, 320 | A seventh-round pick who was Maryland’s starting left tackle for 2½ seasons, Gray took practice reps at both tackle and guard spots during OTAs and minicamp. That suggests the Steelers envision a super-utility backup role for Gray.

Damian Prince

No. 64, 6-3, 280 | Gray’s longtime friend and teammate, Prince was signed off a tryout as an undrafted rookie after starting for 3½ years at right tackle for Maryland. A former five-star recruit out of high school, Prince practiced exclusively at guard over the summer.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
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