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Lolley: Camp Preview Scribbles

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. His opinions do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

The Steelers enter training camp without a lot of true battles for starting spots – though those are always subject to change. Players can emerge unexpectedly to force their way into the conversation.

But in terms of true battles, the Steelers have few – unless you dig deeper into the lineup.

One thing that will be interesting to watch in this camp is how the team deploys its cornerbacks in the secondary.

With Joe Haden not being re-signed in free agency, the Steelers brought in Levi Wallace, a starter in each of his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. But the team also re-signed Ahkello Witherspoon in free agency, giving those two corners both two-year deals. And Cam Sutton, who started the entire 2021 season at right cornerback opposite Haden also returns.

Now, Sutton also moves into the slot when the Steelers go to their nickel and dime defenses, so the team could simply start Wallace and Witherspoon – two pure outside corners – in their base defense and use Sutton exclusively in the slot.

But Sutton also has shown he's more than capable of playing outside, as well.

The Steelers also added safety Damontae Kazee in free agency, and he can play in the slot, as well. So, too, do Arthur Maulet and Tre Norwood.

Veterans Justin Layne and James Pierre also return as outside cornerbacks, giving the team plenty of options.

How that entire puzzle fits together in this secondary will be one of the main story lines of this camp.

Another key thing to watch will be how the depth behind Najee Harris lines up at running back.

Benny Snell enters his fourth season as the team's most proven and experienced back behind Harris, who logged an NFL-high 381 offensive touches last season. That is more touches than the rest of the backs on the Steelers' roster have in their careers combined. Snell leads the way among that group with 255 career carries for 892 yards and 15 receptions. He's also an accomplished special teams player.

But there's little true NFL experience – at least carrying the football – between a group that includes Anthony McFarland, Trey Edmunds and undrafted rookies Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren.

Snell's track record shows he can be a capable backup. He's produced in his five career starts, gaining 338 yards on 81 rushing attempts in those games, an average of 4.2 yards per carry.

McFarland, a 2020 fourth-round draft pick, has shown flashes. In two seasons, he has gained 116 yards on 36 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per rushing attempt.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada had some packages cooked up in training camp last year that had McFarland and Harris on the field together, but McFarland suffered through an injury-riddled season that kept that from coming to fruition. This is a big season for the third-year running back.

Both Durant and Warren were 1,000-yard rushers last season at Duke and Oklahoma State, respectively, and could push for a spot on the roster.

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