Monday, June 25, 2007

Training Camp Battles: 5th Wide Receiver Spot

In the weeks leading up to Steelers training camp, Doubt About It's Dave Wannstache will look at some of the training camp battles that will be happening on the practice fields in Latrobe. Today, he'll look at the battle that will take place for the 5th and final wide receiver spot.

The Contestants: Cedrick Wilson vs. Dallas Baker


Find out our outlook and our prediction, after the jump.


The Overview: Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are locks to make this team, and will be your opening day starters at wide receiver. While he has a propensity to drop catchable balls, Nate Washington had a solid sophomore season and will likely hold a roster spot. Willie Reid was hurt for most of last year, and is said to have some lingering injury issues. But the talk is that these issues are minor, and his extraordinary return skills (Penn State fans know what I’m talking about) will land him on the roster. That leaves Wilson or Baker for the final WR spot.

As a guy who’s been on the team for the past two years, Wilson probably has the advantage going into training camp. He knows the playbook and has worked with QB Ben Roethlisberger for two years now. He also has veteran experience, having been in the league for six years already. That’s a valuable asset to have, when you consider that behind Ward, there is only four years of NFL experience collectively between Holmes, Washington, and Reid. But he has his shortcomings. He’s struggled more and more to beat cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage, and almost never seems to get any sort of separation from defensive backs. Furthermore, and what has pissed me off the most, is his annoying habit of complaining for a pass interference call after every ball he doesn’t catch. Oh, and there’s also that $1.9 million in base salary Wilson will earn if he’s on the opening day roster. $1.9 million is a lot to pay for a guy who has one regular season TD in his two years with the Steelers.

Baker is an interesting guy. It’s not often you see a starting senior wide receiver from a major college program who caught 60 passes for 920 yards and 10 TD’s go in the 7th round. But the knock on Baker is his subpar speed and his tendency to shy away from going over the middle. What he does have though, is height, and that’s desperately lacking in the Steelers wide receiver corps. At 6’3, he could fill the need for a big red-zone target the Steelers haven’t had since Lee Mays (ok, so maybe that’s a stretch. Since Plaxico Burress, then).

The possibility exists that both guys could make the roster. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has said he’d like to use more 4 WR sets on first down, so the Steelers may elect to carry 6 WR’s on the roster. If this is the case, then both Wilson and Baker should make the team.

We’re going to assume, however, that only 5 WR’s will be carried. And while Baker brings some enticing height, I cannot see the Steelers going into the season with only four years of NFL experience behind Ward. The Rooneys aren’t the Nuttings, so the $1.9 million in base salary Wilson will earn probably won’t be the central issue in making this decision. While I may not necessarily agree with it, my gut tells me that in this battle, the veteran will prevail over the rook.

The Prediction: Cedrick Wilson

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