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Overall impressions of the Pittsburgh Steelers following spring workouts

Jon Ledyard saw plenty of good and a little bit of bad in the Steelers at last week's minicamp.

* This won’t surprise many people, but I’d be shocked if, barring injury of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers' three Week 1 quarterbacks aren’t Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones. There's little reason to believe Dustin Vaughan stands to replace any member of the trio, and he’s clearly been the fourth best passer during the past few weeks. The real competition will occur between Gradkowski and Jones for the No. 2 spot behind Roethlisberger, as both quarterbacks will prepare to battle it out in camp.

* Running back is one of the toughest positions to evaluate before the pads go on, but Fitzgerald Toussaint is the clear frontrunner for the No. 3 spot right now. We saw how limited Cameron Stingily was last preseason, and Daryl Richardson has always struggled with vision and decisiveness behind the line of scrimmage, one of the biggest reasons why the veteran back is on his fifth team in less than three years. Brandon Brown-Dukes will be an interesting one to watch when training camp opens. He's a 5-8, 200-pound cinder block of a back, who may prove more formidable when the hitting starts given his stocky build.

* I’m trying not to get overly excited about Sammie Coates due to a strong performance in shorts, but the second-year receiver has looked excellent in practice, making a couple of outstanding leaping grabs despite contact down the sideline. He’s not Martavis Bryant, but he looks ready to step into a bigger role this season.

* Eli Rogers was last year’s camp darling, before a foot injury forced the Louisville product to sit out the season. Rogers is back, however, and is battling it out with sixth-round pick Demarcus Ayers for the No. 5 receiver spot. Both pass catchers have looked good, but Ayers likely has the upper hand right now. Should be a fun battle to watch in August.

* It’s been disheartening not to have seen Bud Dupree out on the field the past few weeks, but the second-year pass rusher should be ready for training camp. One of the biggest questions the Steelers defense will face this year is if it can generate consistent pressure off the edge, and much of that responsibility will fall on Dupree. Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones will never be more than just adequate pass rushers, and James Harrison is probably in a similar category at this point in his career. Dupree needs to take a big step forward this season, or Pittsburgh will struggle to get after the quarterback without blitzing.

* This is just a guess, but I think the Steelers may be preparing to show more dime looks this season, moving Lawrence Timmons off the field against 11 personnel in obvious passing situations. We saw this over the final few weeks last season, when the Steelers rolled with three safeties in certain spots to match-up better against opposing offenses. With Senquez Golson still nursing some minor injuries, Sean Davis has stepped into the starting slot cornerback spot for the time being, while Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden man the safety positions. Both Keith Butler and Carnell Lake have made it clear that Davis is not going to remain at corner this season, but Lake pointed out that the nickel spot is very similar to the strong safety position in Pittsburgh’s defense. Ultimately I think Davis will move around for Pittsburgh early on, as Butler looks to use his size, physicality and athleticism to eliminate mismatches all over the field. I think that will include seeing the field alongside Golden and Mitchell at times, even as a box presence.

Doran Grant is the forgotten man here. It isn’t even that he plays poorly, the team just doesn’t show much interest in incorporating him into the mix at this point of the offseason. The former fourth-round pick has seen the majority of his snaps come with the third-team secondary, but a strong training camp could turn things around, especially given the inexperience ahead of him.

* Cornerback Montell Garner is a guy I’d keep an eye on. He’s long, physical, and has made some terrific plays on the ball. I think he has an outside shot to make the Steelers' final 53-man roster if he can stay healthy through training camp.

* There was a lot of excitement when the Steelers brought Ladarius Green on board this offseason as a free-agent signee, but the former Chargers tight end has yet to show what he’s capable of out on the field. He’s worked out for trainers on the side during practice, but Green has moved very gingerly, laboring badly after simple 40-yard jogs. He has an extensive injury history, which no doubt leads to some frustration over time when the ultra-athletic tight end can’t be out on the field with his teammates. Green has plenty of time to get healthy before the season begins, but I would temper the enthusiasm for now.

* On the other hand, Xavier Grimble has looked ready for the role Green was brought in to fill, which is mind-boggling when you compare their pre-draft workout numbers. Grimble is a rocked-up specimen who appears to have cut weight and added some quickness to his game. He’s reeled in some really tough grabs in practice, so give the 23-year-old credit for taking advantage of the opportunity afforded him by Green’s absence.

* Many have tried to build excitement around Daniel McCullers this offseason, but I just don’t see it with the big fella. He’s a load to block, but McCullers’ range of effectiveness is basically what he can reach in front of him, and he rarely looks interested in matching the competitive fire consistently displayed by Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. I don’t expect a much bigger role for him this season.

* The Steelers are one of the best organizations in sports at creating a family atmosphere in the locker room and a fiercely competitive environment on the field. As Vince Williams reminded everyone while players cleared out their lockers after the final practice of minicamp, the next time the team reunites in Latrobe for training camp, it will be the Hunger Games out there as players fight for their NFL survival beginning on July 29.


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