Before his first-ever training camp as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin offered this bit of insight into how he planned to approach things.
"No job is secure," Tomlin promised on the eve of that 2007 trip to Saint Vincent College. "This is not a security business, and if they're looking for security, they need to find a new line of work. I told those guys that I am going to base my decisions on what they do on a day-to-day basis, not their reputation or resume, and I mean what I say in that regard. People want to establish depth charts at this time of year, so be it. They change."
The Pittsburgh Steelers already have opened their 15th training camp under Tomlin, and this edition is to be held at Heinz Field instead of Saint Vincent College. But if the venue has changed and the coach is older, what is the same is Tomlin's view of a depth chart at this stage of the process.
The Steelers released their camp opening depth chart today, and anyone who has been through this process even once during Tomlin's tenure should not be surprised by a single thing in this particular version. And as you peruse it, for entertainment purposes only, do it with these words from Tomlin rattling around in your head: "They change."
On offense, the Steelers list 12 "starters" in recognition of the reality that contemporary NFL teams often switch position groupings from one snap to the next. The opening dozen includes three wide receivers for passing situations, but also a fullback for those occasions when coordinator Matt Canada wants to utilize one. The defense also includes 12 "starters," with No. 12 being the nickel cornerback.
There is only one rookie listed among the 22 starters, and that is running back Najee Harris. This is an example of Tomlin confirming the obvious, because he even said on Friday when asked about the practice rotation at running back: "Obviously, (Najee's) getting a lot of work and a lot of significant work in the first group, because that's where we (drafted) him."
As for the rest of the offense, there are two starting positions that were opened up during the offseason – center because of Maurkice Pouncey's retirement, and right guard following the release of David DeCastro.
Veteran Trai Turner was signed in the immediate aftermath of the DeCastro move, and he's listed as the starting right guard. J.C. Hassenauer, who started four games at center last season, is listed No. 1 at that position on this depth chart. B.J. Finney, who returned as an unrestricted free agent signee during the offseason, is listed No. 3 at the center position – with rookie Kendrick Green currently at No. 2 – and as the backup to starting left guard Kevin Dotson.
As expected, Chuks Okorafor is listed as the starting left tackle, with rookie Dan Moore Jr. as his backup; and Zach Banner is the starting right tackle, with veteran free agent addition Joe Haeg as his backup.
The top three wide receivers are Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith Schuster, with no designation of which among them would align where. James Washington is No. 2 behind Johnson. The quarterbacks are listed this way: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, and Josh Dobbs. Eric Ebron is the No. 1 tight end, rookie Pat Freiermuth is No. 2, and then it's Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader, and Dax Raymond behind them.
The starting defense holds no surprises. Robert Spillane is alongside Devin Bush at inside linebacker; Alex Highsmith is the starter at right outside linebacker, with veteran Melvin Ingram III behind him. Cam Sutton is the starting cornerback opposite Joe Haden, and Antoine Brooks Jr. gets to begin camp as the No. 1 nickel cornerback, with Arthur Maulet listed No. 2 behind him.
Again, this was Tomlin from Friday on the situation at slot cornerback: "Right now, we're working Art (Maulet) and (Antoine) Brooks there. But there will be times when you'll see other guys, but right now we're focused on those two. Right now, we're working (rookie) Tre Norwood at safety. He could be a guy who could roll down and play in there. He did that in college, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we don't want to give too many people too many things to focus on. We're keeping them locked down and letting them work there for a couple of days. We'll have a meeting of the minds and then determine who'll work (the slot) for the next couple of days."
As for how some of the backups on defense are aligned:
Cassius Marsh and Quincy Roche are behind T.J. Watt; Ulysees Gilbert and Buddy Johnson are behind Bush, with Marcus Allen behind Spillane. It's Justin Layne behind Haden, and James Pierre behind Sutton.
For the specialists and returners, Tomlin stuck with the guys who did those jobs in 2020. Diontae Johnson is listed as the backup punt returner, and Anthony McFarland Jr. is listed as the backup kickoff returner.
If you listen closely, you can hear Tomlin's voice in the background:
"People want to establish depth charts at this time of year, so be it. They change."