Pittsburgh Steelers: Will Simmons

This is the sixth in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is guard.

Players on the roster: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Cody Wallace, Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning and Will Simmons.

Projected starters: Foster and DeCastro. Foster, the elder statesman of a relatively young offensive line, is solid at left guard. DeCastro has Pro Bowl written all over him after playing well in 2013 in his first full NFL season.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Three. I’m counting Wallace here even though he is also the Steelers’ primary center. Hubbard has a chance if the Steelers keep nine offensive linemen, but I only see them carrying eight.

Rookie watch: Simmons signed with the Steelers in May as an undrafted rookie, and his best hope is to land on the practice squad.

What we learned in camp: The Steelers are fine at guard as long as Foster and DeCastro stay relatively healthy. Foster missed a significant amount of practice time after reporting late to camp due to the death of his mother and then dealing with knee swelling. DeCastro had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2013 and the former first-round pick is poised to take another step under first-year offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Hubbard has improved after spending all of last season on the practice squad but probably not enough to overtake Wallace. He still has practice squad eligibility.

He said it: “I’ve watched him on tape and I thought he was a good pick for the Steelers when he came here so I’m glad that I get a chance to work with someone like him. He wants to get better and really all that for a player is up to him. The ability is there, he wants it, he is improving. There’s all kinds of opportunities for him to get better.” – Munchak on DeCastro.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger missed the Steelers’ first organized team activities (OTAs) session of this week because of a family obligation. It is not known if Roethlisberger will attend the voluntary practice on Wednesday.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu continues to stay in California to train, and the eight-time Pro Bowler isn’t expected to attend offseason practices until minicamp in a couple of weeks, which is mandatory.

Not that Steelers fans should be worried about Polamalu’s absence, said his teammate of 11 seasons.

“He’s probably somewhere up in the mountains with the monks praying,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “When he comes back he’s going to be Jesus on the field.”

Also of note from the Steelers' fourth OTA session:
  • Taylor rejoined his teammates on Tuesday after spending last week training in Florida. Running back Dri Archer also took part in OTAs for the first time on Tuesday. Archer, the Steelers’ third-round pick last month, missed the first three voluntary practices because of an illness and his participation in an NFL Players Association event in Los Angeles, which was mandatory. “I took my playbook [to Los Angeles], still studied,” Archer said. “I’m a little behind.”
  • Tight end Matt Spaeth was a full participant in practice on Tuesday after working off to the side during OTAs last week. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds did some running on Tuesday after missing the final two practices last week because of a calf injury.
  • Tempers flared between linebacker Vic So’oto and rookie guard Will Simmons during practice and the two had to be separated. Coach Mike Tomlin tells his players not to fight during practice but the occasional skirmish is inevitable. “When you step on that field, you just feel the testosterone coming off the grass,” Taylor said. “We’re territorial people and you have to be that way on the field.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will get their first look at the players they drafted last week when rookie mini-camp starts today at team headquarters. Here are four things to know about the camp that concludes on Sunday.

Not just for rookies: There are 52 players sscheduled to take part in the minicamp, including a handful who spent most or all of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad.

Wide receivers Justin Brown and Kashif Moore, running back Alvester Alexander, cornerback Devin Smith and guard Chris Hubbard will at least give the Steelers' coaches players who know the playbook. They will also get extra work as they try to make the jump from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

Brown was a sixth-round pick by the Steelers in 2013, and his path to the 53-man roster has not gotten any easier. The Steelers signed free-agents Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and also drafted Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the fourth round.

Smith has an opportunity to make a move this year given the Steelers’ lack of proven depth at cornerback and the fact that they only drafted one player (Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson) at that position last week.

Punter Brad Wing is among the players who signed futures/reserve contracts that will take part in rookie minicamp. Wing is an intriguing prospect as he starred at LSU and is looking to catch on in the NFL. He will have to beat out veteran Adam Podlesh, who recently signed a one-year contract with the Steelers.

Hoping to make their mark: Twenty of the players scheduled to participate in minicamp are trying out for the Steelers.

Will a player emerge from this group as Terence Garvin did last year? The Steelers signed the former West Virginia safety following a tryout, moved him to linebacker and he played 15 games last season before hurting his knee.

At least six players who are trying out for the Steelers played their high school ball in the Pittsburgh area. Among those to watch are running back Jordan Hall, who rushed for just under 1,600 yards at Ohio State and had a pair of 100-yard games last season, and linebacker Dorian Bell.

Bell, one of the most sought-after recruits in the country coming out of Gateway High School in Monroeville, spent two seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The 5-foot-11, 228-pounder had 47 tackles, including 5.5 for losses, last season, and he led Duquesne with six quarterback pressures.

What’s in a number: Second-round pick Stephon Tuitt will wear No. 91 with the Steelers, and no pressure or anything young fella. Aaron Smith is the most recent Steelers player of note to wear that number, and he is simply one of the best 3-4 defensive ends of his generation.

Here are the numbers worn by the other Steelers draft picks, as well as the last Steeler of note to wear that number: linebacker Ryan Shazier, No. 50 (Larry Foote); running back Dri Archer, No. 34 (Rashard Mendenhall); Bryant, No. 10 (Santonio Holmes); Richardson, No. 31 (Mike Logan); offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, No. 67 (Kimo von Oelhoffen); linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, No. 56 (LaMarr Woodley), defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, No. 74 (Willie Colon); and tight end Rob Blanchflower, No. 87 (Mark Bruener).

Keep an eye on: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. lists outside linebacker Howard Jones and guard Will Simmons Insider as two of the Steelers’ undrafted free agents to watch.

Jones earned an invitation to the NFL scouting combine despite playing at Shepherd University, a Division II school in West Virginia, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds and recorded a vertical leap of 40 1/2 inches. Jones also set the all-time sacks record at Shepherd with 34 1/2.

Simmons started 37 consecutive games at East Carolina, and the 6-foot-5, 326-pounder twice earned first-team All-Conference USA selections.

Here is what Kiper Jr. wrote about the two players: “Jones is an interesting developmental pass-rusher, with an athletic build and long arms. He could be worthy of stashing on the practice squad. Simmons projects as solid depth at guard.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers agreed to terms with 10 undrafted free agents Saturday night, and history says one or a couple of them has a good chance of making the team's 53-man roster.

Heck, an undrafted free agent that the Steelers have yet to sign could end up sticking with the team.

Consider that the Steelers signed West Virginia safety Terence Garvin after a tryout last year and he made the team after moving to linebacker. Garvin played in 15 games before hurting his knee, and he shined on special teams while also getting snaps on passing downs.

The Steelers' rookies will take part in a three-day minicamp that starts Friday, and here are five undrafted free agents to watch:

OLB Howard Jones, Shepherd: Jones arrived at the Division II school in West Virginia as a wide receiver and left as Shepherd’s all-time sacks leader (34 1/2). The 6-foot-4, 238-pounder opened enough eyes to receive an invitation to the NFL combine where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Jones has a real chance to make the Steelers given their depth issues at outside linebacker.

DE Josh Mauro, Stanford: The 6-6, 282-pounder is certainly built for defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Mauro has long arms and good strength, and he recorded 51 tackles, including 12 for losses, and four sacks in 2013. The Steelers could still use depth at defensive end and Mauro is an intriguing prospect.

DE Ethan Hemer, Wisconsin: Former walk-on is no stranger to overcoming long odds in pursuit of his dream of playing in the NFL. Hemer recorded just 13 tackles in 2013 but the 6-6, 285-pounder played well enough to earn All-Big Ten honorable mention honors from the league’s coaches.

TE Eric Waters, Missouri: Only caught eight passes for 72 yards and a touchdown last season as the Tigers primarily used him as a blocker. Waters opened eyes at Missouri’s pro day when the 6-5, 245-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and recorded a vertical leap of 39 inches.

S Devon Carrington, Stanford: The 6-1, 204-pounder recorded 33 tackles and broke up four passes in his final season for the Cardinal. A highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, Carrington played as a true freshman at Stanford but never established himself as a full-time starter. Could be interesting as a developmental player.

The rest of the undrafted free agents:

G Will Simmons, East Carolina

DT Roy Philon, Louisville

QB Brendon Kay, Cincinnati

OT Kaycee Ike, UAB

OL Chris Elkins, Youngstown State