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5 storylines to watch as Steelers head into the last stop in offseason before training camp

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Before the 90 members of the Pittsburgh Steelers roster can enjoy a six-week absence from football before the start of training camp, one piece of unfinished business remains on the offseason calendar.

Unlike everything else that took place since mid-April, attendance is no longer voluntary.

Standing in the way of that extended break is the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp, which begins Tuesday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

While the Steelers received a strong turnout from veteran players during the past two weeks of organized team activities, a couple – namely, wide receiver Diontae Johnson and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick – made only brief appearances. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt decided to retire rather than report for a ninth NFL season.

With a full roster on hand, coach Mike Tomlin and his staff can continue to work on the fundamentals this week before ramping up the activity next month when the pads come out at training camp.

No starting jobs or roster spots will be earned based on what transpires this week, but some issues could come into a clearer focus after the three-day session. Here are five:

1. Who takes on a bigger role at defensive end?

Tuitt’s retirement created an opening that might not be filled by just one player. Chris Wormley is the logical choice to return to the starting role he filled last year during Tuitt’s absence.

Wormley, though, didn’t practice during OTAs because of a minor injury and probably won’t take the field until training camp. That gives more reps to second-year defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk, whose playing time increased down the stretch last year.

The Steelers could also flip nose tackle Tyson Alualu back outside and use Montravius ​​Adams in the middle of the 3-4 alignment. Rookie third-rounder DeMarvin Leal also figures to benefit by getting snaps that would go to more established players.

2. Will the quarterback rotation remain the same?

Mason Rudolph might have the edge in experience running second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system, but free-agent signee Mitch Trubisky got most of the first-team snaps during OTAs. Rudolph ran with the second team, much like he has throughout his tenure with the Steelers. Rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett confirmed he was third in the pecking order.

Given the investment in Pickett, the Steelers could expand his role starting in OTAs when a full complement of wide receivers will be at the ready. How the snaps are distributed will be an ongoing storyline throughout the summer.

3. Which player makes the biggest jump in his second season?

As rookies, Najee Harris rushed for 1,200 yards, and Pat Freiermuth caught 60 passes, including seven for touchdowns. Because they were first- and second-round picks, expectations were set high.

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Further down on the draft board are Kendrick Green, Dan Moore Jr., Buddy Johnson and Loudermilk.

Moore has a chance to start at left tackle for the second year in a row. The Steelers waited until May to bring in an experienced tackle, signing four-year veteran Trent Scott to provide competition. After the Steelers signed two veterans to play the interior, Green is no longer at center and will have to unseat Kevin Dotson at left guard if he is going to start again this season.

The Steelers would like Johnson to take on a bigger role at the inside linebacker behind starters Devin Bush and Myles Jack. Loudermilk is pushing for a starting spot at defensive end.

As for the other members of the 2021 draft class, Tre Norwood played in one-third of all defensive snaps as a sub-package defensive back. The Steelers stood by punter Pressley Harvin III during an uneven rookie season but brought in Cameron Nizialek for competition.

4. Who gets playing time at slot receiver?

In losing three wide receivers to free agency, the Steelers also lost their two most experienced options in the slot: JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud.

The Steelers drafted the 5-foot-8 Calvin Austin III in the fourth round as a potential option. He’s among a handful of shorter, quicker receivers on the roster, joining Anthony Miller (5-11, 199), Gunner Olszewski (6-0, 190), Steven Sims (5-10, 176) and Tyler Snead (5-7 , 174).

Although Chase Claypool has the size more suited for the outside, he said he wouldn’t mind getting more reps in the slot if it can help him take advantage of mismatches down the field. Second-round pick George Pickens is also an option if Claypool and Diontae Johnson start outside.

5. Which undrafted free agent will make a good impression?

Five years ago, Mike Hilton made the leap from undrafted free agent to contributor at slot corner. He’s coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the Bengals after signing with Cincinnati in free agency.

Players who have made the roster in recent years as undrafted free agents include James Pierre and Tuzar Skipper. Others to take the undrafted path to eventual positions on the 53-man roster include long snapper Christian Kuntz, center JC Hassenauer and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux.

Who will be this year’s phenom? A few contenders are running backs Jaylen Warren of Oklahoma State and Mataeo Durant of Duke. The Steelers have an opening after not bringing back Kalen Ballage.

TD Moultry appeared in a school-record 59 games at Auburn and could make the roster at outside linebacker where the Steelers seek depth behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. On the offensive line, Jake Dixon is trying to become the second former Duquesne player to earn a roster spot. He stands 6-6 and could be a project for new position coach Pat Meyer.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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