We’re just over a week away from the Steelers heading to Latrobe for some good ol’ fashioned dorm living at St. Vincent’s College for training camp. The Steelers might have to get used to sharing the spotlight with the Buccos this late in the summer, and some Steelers may have to get used to sharing the spotlight with some of their teammates with the amount of position battles shaping up for camp.
Friday, we told you that it doesn’t matter who handles the return game because the options are awesome, but the same can’t be said for the guys fighting for the final defensive end spot. Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward look ready to dominate the ends once again. Ziggy has been living at the gym, Cam has a full year under his belt and Da Beard has been sheared.
BUT Diesel is 33 this year, and can you guess how old Aaron Smith was when he started getting hurt every single year? Yea, 33. After Smith hit the big 3-3, he played a total of 15 games over the next three years. We’re not saying the same will happen to Diesel, but he is getting up there in age, and with the way Dick LeBeau likes to rotate his defensive linemen, if Corbin Bryant, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun or Al Woods are going to round out the Steelers’ end position, they have to be good enough to not just make a 53-man roster but be good enough to see significant playing time if one of the top three does end up missing time.
Woods and Bryant are probably the favorites heading into training camp since they have had at least some NFL experience. The Steelers got Woods off of waivers last year and even though he never saw the field, he did spend a good two months on the 53-man roster learning the defense to end out the year. And when Smith got hurt four games into last season, Bryant was the guy the Steelers brought up from the practice squad to fill in but he only saw action in one game.
Even though Woods has never officially played for the Steelers, he does have 11 games on his resume in the two years he’s been in the league. Two years ago with Tampa Bay, he made 17 tackles (12 solo) and half a sack in just 9 games. THen last year with Seattle, he had 2 tackles (both just happened to be against the Steelers) in 2 games before the Steelers snagged him off waivers. Woods looks like he has the speed to play the edge, and the Steelers must’ve liked him since they jumped on him midseason last year, but Bryant still has the advantage of spending his entire career (one whole year) learning the Steelers’ defense.
If comes down to Woods or Bryant making the team, and it’s been a neck-and-neck race up to that point, Bryant may get the gig because of his tenure, and because he seems to fit the build of a Steelers’ end better than Woods. The 3-4 ends the Steelers utilize are a bit smaller, even more so now that Ziggy has shed his fat, which allows them to rush the edge while the oversized nose tackles plug the holes. If it comes down to these two guys, it’s either Bryant because he’s improved after his strong camp showing last year or its Woods because of his NFL experience.
If neither guy can separate himself from the pack, it has to be Igby. Is it just us or is every other yinzer in Steeler Nation hoping this guy makes the team just so they can come up with as many nicknames as his name has syllables (we’re going with “Igby” if you couldn’t tell)? Igby is definitely the long shot in this battle but the Steelers like him enough to sign him as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Connecticut State. It’s hard to believe but there isn’t a ton of information on SConn St or Igby but everything seems to point to him being a pretty solid pass rusher and he ran a sub-4.5 40 at his pro day. If he’s going to make this team, he’s going to have to be a beast in the limited reps he gets and he’s going to have to prove he can consistently play against NFL talent.
There will be others trying to win this job but it’s Bryant, Woods and Igby that will be there when the fat gets trimmed and if only one of them can make the 53-man roster, it’s going to come down to what they do at camp. We’re hoping the DE4 position isn’t a vital one this year but if it turns out to be, this is going to be one big battle – especially since the three weigh in at 892 pounds.