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Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Surprise Candidates to Earn a Roster Spot

Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is in full swing at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., with 90 players on the roster.

Collectively, those 90 players are like a block of wood that the Steelers will carve into a 53-man roster by Sept. 1. If the finished work of art is a masterpiece, the Steelers will have a shot at winning their seventh Super Bowl.

Unless your brain is made of pigskin, you’ve probably been doing what most people do during the summer. You’ve been vacationing, going to the beach, grilling and spending time outdoors. You haven’t had time to follow the Steelers’ every breath during the offseason.

So perhaps you’re not familiar with all 90 Steelers who put on pads Monday and are trying to win a roster spot.

Chances are that a player you haven’t heard of will be on the 53-man roster at some point in the 2013 season.

You might ask “Who?” when you read some of these names, but here is why each of them have a shot at dressing for the Steelers at some point in the fall.

Justin Brown, WR: There’s a realistic chance Plaxico Burress doesn’t make the team. If he doesn’t, that increases the probability of Brown earning a roster spot. Ben Roethlisberger likes those tall receivers, and Brown is 6’3”. The Steelers chose Brown from Oklahoma in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. He transferred from Penn State to Oklahoma after the 2011 season in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. With Steelers’ fourth-round pick Landry Jones as his quarterback, Brown caught 73 passes in 2012. He caught 73 passes combined in three years at Penn State. Brown also can return punts. He was 12th in the nation with a 13.6-yard return average, according to PennLive.com. In a training camp drill, Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both caught five punts and hung onto all five balls while attempting to catch a sixth, according to Steel City Insider (subscription required). Neither Brown nor Sanders could catch the sixth punt while holding five footballs, but Brown was the top rookie in the drill. That’s something for Steelers coaches to keep in the back of their minds.

Reggie Dunn, WR: This undrafted free agent from Utah set NCAA records with four 100-yard kickoff returns in 2012 and five in his career. The 5’9”, 178-pound Dunn ran a 4.25 40-yard dash at Utah’s pro day, according to NFL.com. He’s not likely to be a factor catching passes, but if he takes a kickoff to the house in a preseason game, the Steelers will find room for Dunn as a sixth receiver specializing in kick returns.

Nik Embernate, OG: For what it’s worth, Embernate has been given No. 51. That’s James Farrior’s old number. Would the Steelers give Farrior’s old number to just anyone? Embernate, undrafted out of San Diego State, showed he’s not just anyone when he out-played No. 5 overall pick Ziggy Ansah of BYU at the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, according to NEPatriotsDraft.com. The 6’4”, 304-pound Embernate is the Steelers’ highest-paid undrafted free agent, according to Spotrac. As someone who can play both guard and tackle, it’s not hard to see Embernate beat out a John Malecki or a Guy Whimper for a roster spot.

Marshall McFadden, ILB: McFadden, who turns 27 in August, is the only non-rookie on this list. He spent most of last season on the Steelers’ practice squad and played in one game, assisting on a tackle in the Steelers’ 13-10 home loss to Baltimore. The 6’1, 233-pound McFadden has made an impression in training camp by dominating running back Baron Batch in the backs-on-backers drill, according to Steel City Insider (subscription required). He also led the Steelers in preseason tackles last year. The Steelers need someone to step up in camp and provide depth at inside linebacker behind Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote. McFadden was listed as Timmons’ top backup on the Steelers’ original training camp depth chart this summer.

J.D. Woods, WR: This undrafted free agent is reminiscent of Hines Ward. According to National Football Post, he’s not the fastest receiver but he runs precise routes and isn’t afraid to catch the ball in traffic. The 6’0”, 203-pound Woods managed to catch 61 balls on a team with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who both caught 114 passes for West Virginia in 2012. Woods also can make the difficult catches. Don’t be shocked if he overtakes 31-year-old Jerricho Cotchery or soon-to-be-36-year-old Plaxico Burress for the No. 5 receiver spot.

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