Dunlap: Five Things I’m Paying Attention To In Latrobe

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – There isn’t much going on in the way of position battles as the Steelers head to St. Vincent College in Latrobe to begin camp. Many of the spots are nailed down. But, as always in football-crazy Pittsburgh, there is intrigue with anything pigskin related. Here are five things I will keep a keen eye on throughout camp:

–  Going too hard: Remember last October when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — even as the Steelers were 6-1 at the time — crowed on his radio show about how hard the Steelers went at practice? Maybe he had a point and maybe he didn’t, but nonetheless he carries as loud of a voice as anyone in this organization and he meant it when he said the Steelers accumulated some injuries through last season as a result of an overemphasis on practice dating all the way back to training camp. I don’t know if Ben was right or wrong, but I do know he was incredibly sincere when he spoke of what he felt was a link between hitting too much and too hard and it resulting in injuries. It will be interesting to see if anything is scaled back at camp because Ben With The Big Arm spoke out against some of the way the coaches conduct business in Latrobe.

Welcome Back?: How will Martavis Bryant be welcomed back into the fold by his teammates is something that is very interesting. In particular, how Bryant and Roethlisberger get along will be something to keep a pulse on. It is oh-so predictable that the players will all say that they will welcome Bryant back with open arms and it will seem like lots of love, but you really wonder deep down if anyone will harbor some hard feelings because of the bind this guy put the franchise in. Also interesting is the role — if he wants to undertake it — that Antonio Brown can play in guiding Bryant along as he fights back to respectability with his teammates.

Cornering The Market: The Steelers went and signed Coty Sensabaugh to a two-year contract for a reason — because they want him to play corner for them. That’s a name I look at and pay attention to in camp because that signing, to me at least, put the always-injured Senquez Golson on notice that he is more than likely on the outside looking in and will have to do something miraculous to win a job. One would think Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell and William Gay have spots along with Sensabugh. On top of that, Cameron Sutton wasn’t drafted in the third round to stand and watch. This is a big camp for many guys who seem to be jockeying for time at corner.

Is Jesse James Ready?: There is no more weekly wavering about the health and availability of Ladarius Green. He’s done; he’s gone. That experiment is over and Green never became the guy who followed Heath Miller as the Steelers’ tight end. Now, without question, Jesse James is the man at that position. While the receiving corp is deep and will provide Roethlisberger with a ton of targets, everyone knows how much Big Ben likes to use the tight end, especially in check-down situations and as he rolls through into the later stages of his progressions. Now that there is zero question as to if he is the starter or not, it will be interesting to see how James — who can be beset by drops here and there — handles being the go-to tight end in this offense.

Will L Bell Be A No-Show?: The highly-publicized contract situation of running back Le’Veon Bell has been one of the hot stories of the offseason and will remain boiling until he arrives in Latrobe. Some debate the merits of camp for a guy like Bell (who probably shouldn’t get hit anyway) while others insist staying away makes the best sense from a business standpoint and also keeps him out of the way of the most harm as he’s under the franchise tag and doesn’t have much to gain. It is obvious by some posts on social media that his teammates would rather have Bell at camp, so while I agree with his decision to stay away for a little while, this saga will most likely go on a bit. One wonders where the point is when his teammates will hit a threshold and simply just want the guy at practice because it is how this team best prepares for the season. Sure, business is business — but the best business is winning.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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