LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers only have two position battles for starting jobs in training camp. One was planned; the other was not.
The Steelers wanted Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris to compete for the starting left tackle job. The Steelers signed Harris as a free agent to challenge Villanueva, who started 12 games last season in his first year in the NFL.
The Steelers were not planning on having a competition for the tight end job. They signed Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract in March to be their starter. But Green remains on the PUP list and second-year player Jesse James is competing with veteran David Johnson for that job.
The battle between Villanueva and Harris will go on, perhaps longer than the Steelers desired because Villanueva had a poor outing in the preseason opener against the Lions.
Villanueva said he made mistakes on three of the 10 plays he was in the game. He allowed a sack and also was penalized for illegal hands to the face, a penalty that wiped out a Steelers first down.
"I just had a really bad game, a really bad 10 plays," Villanueva said. "It was just a very sloppy performance. I think in football you spend six months playing football and then six months speculating what football is going to be like. In this case, I just had it all wrong. I have to go out and play better."
Villanueva was thrown into the fire last season when Kelvin Beachum's season was ended by a knee injury. He didn't have much time to think, and perhaps that's what allowed him to play well down the stretch for a playoff team.
Now maybe he's thinking too much.
"In every protection there will be a slide (zone) side and there will be a man side," Villanueva said. "You're fighting someone one-on-one or you have help on the inside or outside. In some protections, especially the ones that we haven't run in the past, I still haven't made that logical leap of 'This is what I have to play.'
"I think most players go out and play. I think I over-think too much sometimes in terms of where my help is coming from, where can I not get beat? Sometimes that gets me into trouble more than my hand placement or footwork. 'Am I ready to perform this play exactly the way the coaches want me to perform it?' Against the Lions I did not do what the coaches asked me to do."
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak said he will continue to rotate Villanueva and Harris with the starters. He is hoping to have a clear idea of who will be the starter by the time the third preseason game is over.
"For now, for me, it's good to see them both working with the first group," Munchak said. "I'm hoping they play a lot more the next two weeks to get that thing settled. But it's a good problem to have. One guy has a lot of experience. The other is in his second season. It's interesting to see those two dynamics. I think Ryan has done a nice job learning what we do and is competing well."
At tight end, James continues to have the edge because there really isn't anyone to challenge him. Johnson is a solid blocker but not much of a receiver. Xavier Grimble, who spent last season on the practice squad, has talent but hasn't displayed consistency.
If Green doesn't return soon from headaches that have kept him on the PUP list, the Steelers might be forced to go with James as their starter whether he's ready or not.