Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Preseason Week 4 Roster Battles

The Steelers head into their last preseason game against Carolina with most of their final roster determined. Last week's cut from 90 to 75 claimed veteran players like Baron Batch and Stevenson Sylvester. This was a reflection of how the Steelers view their young linebackers and the addition of Felix Jones to the backfield made Batch expendable. Heading into the Carolina game 36 roster spots are essentially locked, barring injury.

QB - Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB - Le'Veon Bell, Isaac Redman
FB - Will Johnson
WR - Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton
TE - Matt Spaeth/Heath Miller*, David Paulson
OT - Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum
OG - David DeCastro, Ramon Foster
C - Maurkice Pouncey

DE - Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward
NT - Steve McLendon, Al Woods
OLB - LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones
ILB - Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons
CB - Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay
S - Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas

K - Shaun Suisham
LS - Greg Warren

I'm being a little conservative in my estimates here, but this leaves 17 rosters spots to still be decided. The one wrench that could be thrown in the mix is at Tight End. Matt Spaeth will be out until mid-season and is a likely candidate for the IR-Designated for Return list. Heath Miller is still on the PUP list and his reactivation would take up Spaeth's roster spot. I kept one of them on my list of guarantees, but it's possible that the Steelers will hold out Heath on the PUP list for a few weeks which would enable them to keep an extra player somewhere else.

Running Back: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Dwyer has looked starter-capable in the last two preseason games where he has seen significant action. Dwyer might be the Week 1 starter if Bell and Redman are still injured. Jones is being given a chance to make the roster, which he might do given Stephens-Howling's injury. LSH is injured which is the only reason he's on the roster bubble right now.

Wide Receiver: Derek Moye, Justin Brown, Reggie Dunn
With the first 4 receiver spots locked down, three guys head into the finale looking to make a splash. Moye has looked the best with the ball in his hands and both he and Brown are over 6'4" and would give the Steelers a tall receiving option. Dunn has been the primary kick returner in the preseason and could win his way onto the roster with an explosive special teams performance against Carolina. Moye seems to have the inside track as of right now, but Brown hasn't seen many balls thrown his way since the preseason opener so it is hard to gauge where he is in his development.

Tight End: David Johnson, Michael Palmer, Jamie McCoy
Johnson looked good in his first game-action since tearing his ACL last year. Michael Palmer adds a veteran presence to the group and has been the best blocking tight end all preseason. As an added bonus, he had two big tackles on special teams against the Redskins that prevented big returns. Jamie McCoy is a young prospect who has flashed some athleticism. As things stand right now, it seems likely that Johnson will make the team, Palmer is right on the fringe depending on Heath's health and McCoy will find his way onto the practice squad.

Offensive Line: John Malecki, Guy Whimper, Joe Long, Chris Hubbard
The battle for the 7th and 8th spots on the offensive line depth chart has been ongoing for most of the preseason. John Malecki's position versatility on the inside seems to give him the inside track for the 7th spot. Veteran Guy Whimper was added to the roster but has looked bad playing guard on the second team line. Rookie Joe Long was elevated to second team tackle against the Chiefs and looked better than veteran D'Anthony Batiste (who was released this week). Rookie Chris Hubbard also played well against the Chiefs and could find his way onto the practice squad or even the active roster if he shows the versatility to play both guard and tackle.

Defensive Line: Hebron Fangupo, Alameda Ta'amu, Brian Arnfelt
Al Woods has played himself onto the roster. If the Steelers keep 6 defensive linemen, the 6th will likely be either Alameda Ta'amu or Hebron Fangupo. Rookie DE Brian Arnfelt has accumulated 6 tackles in the preseason and flashed against the lesser competition in the second half. He is certainly a candidate for the practice squad but it seems like an outside chance that he makes the roster.

Outside Linebacker: Chris Carter, Alan Baxter
The trade of Adrian Robinson takes some of the drama out of the outside linebacker race. Chris Carter seems to have his spot as the 4th OLB locked down though he is feeling the heat from rookie Alan Baxter. Carter has played special teams throughout his career and gives value to the team. Baxter has 6 tackles and 2 sacks in the preseason and is making a case for himself. If he isn't on the active roster, Baxter will definitely be on the practice squad.

Inside Linebacker: Marshall McFadden, Vince Williams, Kion Wilson, Brian Rolle, Terrence Garvin
With the release of Stevenson Sylvester, the competition for backup inside linebacker is wide open. The Steelers could keep as many as 7 inside linebackers. Marshall McFadden has made a name for himself in the preseason and rookie 6th rounder Vince Williams has been elevated to the second team on the depth chart. Kion Wilson has played on all five special teams units and Brian Rolle has been all over the field. Terrence Garvin has played both inside and outside linebacker, though he has looked better on the inside. All 5 of these guys could find their way to the 53-man roster. The final decisions will likely come down to special teams play this week.

Cornerback: Curtis Brown, Terry Hawthorne, Isaiah Green, Josh Victorian
Brown essentially has the #4 corner spot locked down, especially given his abilities on special teams. Hawthorne was the Steelers 5th round pick this year and is working his way back from injury. Green has seen significant time during the preseason due to injuries to other corners and looked solid. Victorian is a guy the Steelers seem to like but has looked bad this preseason and was a liability on the field last year. The Steelers will likely only keep 4 or 5 corners and it's hard to see them parting ways with Hawthorne who they invested a 5th round pick in.

Safety: Robert Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith
Golden made the team last year and saw time during the end of the season. Cromartie-Smith has been hovering on the practice squad the last few seasons and is in his do-or-die year with no practice squad eligibility remaining. Both have looked decent on defense but have also made mistakes on special teams. If the Steelers keep 5 safeties, both will make the team, but if they only keep 4 then one of them will be looking for work.

Punter: Drew Butler, Brian Moorman
Butler has the bigger leg and seems to have clearly out-performed the veteran Moorman in game action up to this point. Butler is averaging a full 7 yards more per kick than Moorman (47.5 to 40.5) and Moorman has gotten the benefit of some good bounces. Butler should win this job, even though Moorman kicked with the first team against the Chiefs.

Heading into the final preseason game, there are some close roster battles and I've just detailed 31 guys who are fighting over 17 spots. The final few decisions on the 53-man roster will be difficult, especially if it involves one of the eight rookie linebackers. Here's my best guess on how the roster will shake out ("bubble" players in yellow). I'm predicting that Heath Miller will be activated from the PUP list this week and that Matt Spaeth will be placed on the IR-Designated for Return list (where he would not count against the active roster).

QB - Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB - Le'Veon Bell, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling
FB - Will Johnson
WR - Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye
TE - Heath Miller, David Paulson, David Johnson, Michael Palmer
OT - Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum
OG - David DeCastro, Ramon Foster
C - Maurkice Pouncey, John Malecki

DE - Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward
NT - Steve McLendon, Al Woods
OLB - LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter, Alan Baxter
ILB - Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, Marshall McFadden, Vince Williams, Kion Wilson, Brian Rolle
CB - Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Curtis Brown, Terry Hawthorne
S - Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden\

K - Shaun Suisham
P - Drew Butler
LS - Greg Warren

Practice Squad: Terrence Garvin, Isaiah Green, Alameda Ta'amu, Brian Arnfelt, Jamie McCoy, Justin Brown, Chris Hubbard, Joe Long

No comments: