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3 Steelers to watch closely during training camp: Defense

There may be offseason activities for NFL teams to take advantage of during the deadest of times on the football calendar, but once training camp rolls around, the excitement goes to an entirely new level. This is the first signal to fans that the NFL season is soon approaching and the offseason is about to end.

With several new pieces on defense, there is much to break down as it pertains to the Steelers defense heading into training camp. To narrow it down, we are going to take a look at three specific players on that side of the ball who have a great opportunity to make a statement in Latrobe.

Jonathan Marshall

Marshall was signed off the Jets practice squad in the later portion of last season, but we saw very little of him in a Steelers uniform. However, he will have a chance to prove himself in training camp. His primary competition for a roster spot comes from Montravious Adams and newly acquired Breiden Fehoko, but Marshall is the one player who may have untapped potential. Adams has been a solid reserve for the Steelers, but we saw last year that he is not someone you want starting for a period of time. Fehoko brings a “tough bully” mentality to the interior of the defensive line despite being listed at only 300 pounds, but he relies solely on power and has a very limited skill set.

To say Marshall was inconsistent in college is an understatement, but his athleticism cannot be ignored. At his pro day in 2021, he ran a 4.88 in the 40 with a 1.67 split time. If a 310-pound defensive lineman running that fast does not impress you, perhaps give attention to his 36 bench reps and 32″ vertical jump. For someone who fell all the way to the sixth round, that is freaky athleticism! Despite the competition he will face, Jonathan Marshall is poised for a training camp breakout.

Nick Kwiatkoski

The pressure is on for Kwiatkoski, as the team recently signed yet another free-agent linebacker, Kwon Alexander. While it may seem like a long shot for Kwiatkoski to find a spot on the team after the acquisition of Alexander, the Steelers may prioritize run defense over coverage ability. In my opinion, the acquisition of Alexander puts as much heat on Tanner Muse as it does on Kwiatkoski. Muse may still have the edge due to his versatility and ability on special teams, but one thing Muse has not done well at in the NFL is defend the run. Kwiatkoski can use this to his advantage, as his blend of smarts, experience, and functional strength could give the Steelers a strong run defender at the linebacker position. Considering it was such an issue last year, the team could choose for the safe, high-floor Kwiatkoski over the higher-upside Muse. He will see opportunities early in the preseason.

Quincy Roche

With all the hype surrounding Markus Golden and Nick Herbig, Quincy Roche has gotten lost in the shuffle, but let us not forget when Roche was once the camp darling. Now that he is back with the team, he should have the motivation needed to make a strong push for a roster spot. Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt are both locked in long-term, but it is far from a sure thing Watt stays healthy for 17 games. The addition of Golden helps, but Herbig is not even guaranteed to remain on the edge. Plus, in a scenario where neither Kwiatkoski nor Muse impress, both could get cut, allowing the Steelers to keep an additional edge rusher. I fully expect some scrimmage splash plays from Roche, potentially opening the door for him to make the roster with a strong preseason.

Which defensive players are you paying close attention to in training camp? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!

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