As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin training camp, they’ll look to these players to either step up, or fall down the depth chart in 2017.
With training camp finally upon us, let us take the time to take a look at who needs to step up this season so that the Pittsburgh Steelers can make that elusive championship run for their seventh Super Bowl title. The Steelers have a veteran team with a lot of returning starters, but big seasons from a couple of key positions could push this team over the top in 2017.
James Conner, RB
It may not be fair to expect a rookie third rounder to have a big season, but Pittsburgh may need Conner to get a significant number of touches depending on how Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation plays out as well as Bell’s health. Fortunately, the former Pitt Panther is no ordinary rookie as he had a prolific career in a program that has churned out some top-tier NFL running backs (i.e. Tony Dorsett and LeSean McCoy) despite having and beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma in college.
Whether he has that kind of ceiling as a NFL running back is questionable, but the league’s top jersey seller should give us the answer to that this season.
William Gay, CB
The elder statesman in the defensive backfield, “Big Play” Willie Gay needs to be a leader in the meeting room and on the field to a position group that sorely needs it with its youth.
He was still a productive player last season with sevens passes defensed and an interception in nine starts. For the Steelers to have the season that they’re capable of having, the 32-year old Gay will have to be a mentor to players like Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton for the pass defense to return to ballhawking form in 2017.
Javon Hargrave, DT
Hargrave showed last year that he could be effective as a starting interior defensive lineman in the NFL, which is good because Pittsburgh is extremely thin at DT this season with Daniel McCullers and Roy Philon as the only other players at the position on the roster.
The South Carolina State product started 13 games in 2016 due to injuries, and had notable games in back-to-back weeks against the Browns and Colts (a sack and a fumble recovered for a touchdown against the former, a career-high five tackles and a sack vs. the latter).
Having a playmaker in the middle of the defensive line can open things up for the rest of the defense, and Hargrave certainly fits the bill.