Mathis, Edwards or Randle El: You make the choice

Dale Lolley takes a look at the battle for the third wide receiver spot vacated by Bobby Shaw's departure to Jacksonville.

With the loss of slot man Bobby Shaw to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers had a big hole in their passing game.

It may not seem like much, especially considering that Shaw caught just 24 passes for 409 yards and two touchdowns in 2001. But the slot position is key in the Steelers' offense on third downs and Shaw is an excellent route runner who had a knack for finding the open spots in zone coverage.

Looking to replace Shaw in the slot, the Steelers went to Troy Edwards, the team's top draft pick in 1999. But Edwards balked at moving inside.

Rather than move Hines Ward inside and put the erratic Edwards on the outside, the Steelers gave themselves two more options by taking Antwaan Randle El in the second round of the draft and signing veteran Terance Mathis during mini-camp.

At this point, the nod would have to go to Mathis to be the main man as the team's third receiver.

Mathis, who was signed for just one year, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to a young receiving corps that should benefit from a year of working with him.

But don't rule out Randle El in the offense just yet. The rookie looked sharp at the team's coaching sessions and mini-camp despite having been primarily a quarterback at Indiana University. He will contribute this season, especially as a return man. The kid is dynamite in the open field with the ball in his hands.

Two darkhorses for playing time this year will be Lenzie Jackson and rookie Lee Mays.

The team will likely keep six wide receivers, meaning Jackson, Mays and Edwards will be battling for the final two spots.

Jackson is a solid special teams performer and has shown the ability to use his big body to shield off defenders to make a tough catch.

Mays, meanwhile, has been one of the team's pleasant surprises this offseason.

He came to the Steelers with a reputation of being a track star playing football. But Mays, the all-time receptions leader at UTEP, has shown excellent hands to go with his good speed. He has made the acrobatic catches an ordinary occurance.

That will likely leave Edwards the odd man out - regardless of the votes of confidence head coach Bill Cowher has given him.

Cowher knows that Edwards is a pouter and would see the drafting of Randle El and Mathis as exactly what they are, replacements for him. Unwilling to admit taking Edwards was a mistake, Cowher is going to give him one last shot to make the club.


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