By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on July 5, 2014
With Independence Day in the rear-view mirror, NFL training camps are ever so close. The Pittsburgh Steelers, a talented team that has underwhelmed over the last two seasons, enters the summer with several interesting storylines to monitor. Here are five.
The Steelers' 2014 draft class features plenty of boom-or-bust talent. Linebacker Ryan Shazier, a first-round choice, is likely the only rookie who will open the year as a starter, but several others could push for significant action as well. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, gadget piece Dri Archer and receiver Martavis Bryant could all play a role in getting the Steelers back to the playoffs. Each comes with a concerning low floor, though.
The competition for the starting wide receiver spot opposite Antonio Brown wasn't very fierce during OTAs. Markus Wheaton, a second-year pass catcher from Oregon State, seemingly ran away with the battle. Talent remains behind him on the depth chart, though, with Lance Moore, Justin Brown, Martavis Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey all a productive and consistent camp away from challenging for more playing time.
Second-year running back Le'Veon Bell is expected to carry the majority of the load as the Steelers' workhorse back in 2014, but free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount could garner a sizable role with an impressive training camp and preseason. At 250 pounds, Blount could steal some of Bell's short-yardage opportunities, including those near the goal line.
Some have speculated that starting strong safety Troy Polamalu could be set for retirement at the conclusion of 2014. If true, second-year safety Shamarko Thomas needs to develop rapidly. Thomas, a fourth-round pick last April, has been training with Polamalu in California this summer, a clear sign the former AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year sees the young safety as a candidate to carry the torch at the position in Pittsburgh.
In addition to Thomas, last year's first-round pick, Jarvis Jones, will be a key second-year player to monitor during training camp. Unlike Thomas, however, Jones projects to enter 2014 as a starter. Therefore, his development will be even more crucial. He fared decently in run defense as a rookie, but didn't contribute much as a pass rusher despite being a prolific one in college. His emergence would be a huge boost to Dick LeBeau's unit.
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