Thursday, August 17, 2006
Steelers 2006: Unfolding Positional Battles
(The Burgh – August 17. 2006) – The 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers have 19 of 22 starters returning (only losing receiver Antwaan Randle El, defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen and safety Chris Hope), so most starting jobs aren’t up for grabs during this year’s training camp and pre-season. However, there are some positional battles that are unfolding as the halfway point of the pre-season nears.
- Punter – One would think that veteran punter Chris Gardocki wouldn’t have to worry about his day job. But, he is being challenged (for the third camp in a row) by Mike Barr, a former Rutgers punter nine years younger than Gardocki. Barr is not new to Latrobe - he was cut by Pittsburgh in both the 2004 and 2005 training camps. Gardocki’s upside - he has never had one of his 1,112 punts in the NFL blocked, might not outweigh his downside - Gardocki would make $1,088,000 this season, with a salary cap value of $1.3 million, roughly $1 million more than Barr's cap value. With big league contracts coming up for Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Big Ben, Gardocki could be in his last year (or worse - maybe his last camp) here.
- Free Safety – The Free Safety position is undoubtedly the most important starting position up for grabs right now. Ryan Clark was the Steelers’ highest-profile free agent signing in the off-season, being lured away from the Washington Redskins with a four-year, $7 million contract, which included a $1.7 million signing bonus. That was April. Today, he's behind Tyrone Carter on the depth chart, fighting to earn the starting free safety spot on the roster left open by the departure of Chris Hope. And, if that weren’t enough confusion, in walks rookie Anthony Smith, the Steelers third-round pick from Syracuse, who makes not one, but two, picks in the pre-season opener at Arizona last Saturday. Smith now is asking for more playing time and should see more action for the remainder of the pre-season.
- WR (#6 spot) – As we wrote about earlier in the month, the last WR position looks like it will be between Quincy Morgan and special team captain, Sean Morey. Unfortunately for Morey, he suffered a minor injury at camp yesterday and will be forced to wear a soft cast during the Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Unlike Morgan, who is solely being looked at for his receiving skills, if Morey is kept it will most likely not be for his receiving skills, but more for his intangibles and value on special teams.
- QB (3rd String) – Prior to last week’s game against the Cardinals, the Pittsburgh media was generally consistent in its reporting that Shane Boyd, who was cut by the Tennessee Titans last year and picked up by the Steelers, was ahead of Omar Jacobs (who supposedly was struggling with the play book). However, it was Jacobs, not Boyd, who lead the Steelers on the only TD drive last Saturday. We don’t know if it’s just us, but Stillers Nation thought the Jacobs was more poised than Boyd, had better control of the offense, and had a better touch on his ball than Boyd last week. Unless Shane Boyd learns how to throw the ball at a speed other than “Nolan Ryan fastball”, his days as a Steeler could be numbered.