The Steelers are heading back to their roots for training camp. Once again, Pittsburgh will camp up the road at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, where the team held more than 50 consecutive camps before having to temporarily halt the tradition in 2020.
Saint Vincent has seen numerous position battles unfold over the years, and it will see several more play out this summer. Fans who will make the trip out to Latrobe will get a chance to watch a team that is expected to be back in the playoffs this season after coming up just short last year.
Let's break down the Steelers' biggest training camp position battles, starting with the one that everyone will continue to talk about until Pittsburgh kicks off the regular season against the visiting 49ers on Sept. 10.
LT: Broderick Jones vs. Dan Moore Jr.
It's largely expected that Jones -- a rookie first-round pick -- will eventually supplant Moore in the starting lineup. The question is whether or not Jones will enter the season as the team's starting left tackle charged with protecting Kenny Pickett's blindside.
There's little doubt Jones will begin camp as the second-team left tackle before Moore, who will do his best to try to keep his young challenger on the bench for as long as he can. Moore will start camp with the staters, but rest assured, Jones will get plenty fo chances to show what he can do with the first-team offense as camp unfolds.
Moore knows what it's like to start as a rookie. He was an immediate starter as a rookie back in 2021 and dealt with the typical ups and downs associated with that challenge. Moore's play steadily improved over the past two years despite that fact that he permitted seven quarterback sacks in 2022 (one of the highest totals among offensive linemen).
One of the only knocks on Jones, an athletic marvel, coming out of Georgia was the fact that he made just 19 starts for the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs. Luckily for Jones, he will get a crash course in NFL pass protection during camp while going up against the likes of Alex Highsmith, who tallied 14.5 sacks last season.
SS: Damontae Kazee vs. Keanu Neal
With Terrell Edmunds' departure to Philadelphia, the Steelers will have a new starting strong safety for the first time since 2017. Shortly after losing Edmunds, Pittsburgh Neal, a former Pro Bowler whose skillset is similar to Edmunds.
The safe bet is that Neal will start over Kazee, who managed to crack the Steelers' 53-man roster last summer following an impressive camp. Despite an injury that sidelined him for eight games, Kazee's 2022 season included four starts and two interceptions that included a key pick in Pittsburgh's season-finale against Cleveland.
Regardless of who is the starter, both players will have their own roles inside the defense. Neal, a physical player who actually played linebacker for the Cowboys in 2021, will likely replace Edmunds as the dime linebacker. Kazee will be on the field when the Steelers play defenses that include three safeties. This will likely mean more reps for Kazee when Pittsburgh plays pass-happy teams.
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WR Hakeem Butler vs. the field
Every year, there seems to be a tightly contested battle for the Steelers' final receiver spot on the 53-man roster. That appears to be the case again this summer, especially with former XFL standout Hakeem Butler in the middle of it.
A former Cardinals fourth-round pick, the 6-foot-5, 227-pound Butler's NFL career was initially derailed by an injury that was sustained during his rookie camp. After short stints in Carolina and Philadelphia, Butler failed to get onto the field with both of his Canadian Football League teams.
Butler's luck finally began to change this past spring. As a member of the XFL's St. Louis BattleHawks, Butler caught 51 passes for 599 yards and eight touchdowns. His success in the XFL led to himon May 16.
HAKEEM BUTLER. HE IS HIM. There is no one that can guard this man.— James Larsen (@JamesLarsenPFN) April 22, 2023
The Dome absolutely erupts as @410Keem takes it 66 yards to the house, on the dart from AJ McCarron. The @XFLBattlehawks might just pull this off. #XFL | @XFL2023pic.twitter.com/ubA9PUJI5f
Butler will now compete against Miles Boykin, Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski and Cody White (among others for the final two receiver spots on Pittsburgh's 53-man roster behind Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Allen Robinson).
While it's not a guarantee, Austin -- a rookie last season who missed the entire year with an injury -- is expected to make the cut assuming he has a solid camp. That leaves one available spot if the Steelers are only keeping five wideouts on the 53-man roster. Based on his athletic tangibles as well as what he did in the XFL, Butler has more than a good shot at beating out the remaining challengers for the spot.
That said, it isn't going to be easy. Boykin, an established veteran, has experience in the Steelers' system. So does White, a shifty slot player who started in a regular season game in 2022. And while his first season in Pittsburgh was a disappointment, Olszewski is a versatile player who is probably motivated to put last season behind him.
Whether or not Butler is able to develop a quick rapport with Pickett may determine whether or not he earns a spot on the 53-man roster. Butler will have to make a quick impression during camp while following that up with plays during the preseason. If he is able to do that, Butler's 2023 will likely become even more memorable as a member of Pittsburgh's active roster.