Thursday, August 22, 2013

Taking Stock of the Steelers Roster

With two preseason games in the books, the Steelers 53-man roster is beginning to take shape. The Steelers must cut 15 players from their current 90-man roster by August 27. Since their third preseason game is on Saturday (the 24th) we could start to see cuts being made as early as Sunday. There are going to be some difficult decisions to make, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where the reserve linebackers have looked dominant against inferior competition in the preseason.

The Steelers have suffered a few injuries which will change the roster dynamic. Plaxico Burress' shoulder injury sidelined him for the season and Matt Spaeth's foot injury will have him out until mid-season. Even though the final diagnosis is not in on Le'Veon Bell's foot injury, it seems likely he will not be back before the bye week in Week 5. David Johnson was recently activated off the PUP list, and he adds some much-needed depth to the TE position.

Barring any injuries or criminal incidents, there are 37 players that are essentially locks to make the roster.

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

DE: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward
NT: Steve McLendon
OLB: LaMarr Woodley, Jarvis Jones, Jason Worlids
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

* - not currently on the active roster

The Roster Bubble

Quarterback: Despite early reports from camp that John Parker Wilson was out-playing Landry Jones, Jones has looked better in preseason game action so far. Jones played most of the second half against the Redskins and led the only touchdown drive of the preseason. The 3rd Quarterback spot is Jones' to lose at this point and it seems unlikely that JPW will unseat him by the end of the preseason.

Running Back: Barring any kind of disaster, Jonathan Dwyer will make the team. Given Le'Veon Bell's injury the Steelers will need at least 3 healthy ball-carriers to start the season. Baron Batch has an outside shot if Bell has to be out for an extended period of time.

Wide Receiver: With Burress' injury, the battle for the 5th spot on the WR depth chart seems to be down to Derek Moye and Justin Brown. Moye has the only offensive touchdown of the preseason and Brown has made some good catches. Both are over 6'4" and a bit lean. Neither have played much on special teams which leaves the door open for Reggie Dunn (who has played both KR and PR) to win a roster spot. David Gilreath played himself out of the spot with two bad plays as a punt returner in the opener.

Tight End: With Heath Miller likely to be out for the first few weeks of the regular season and Matt Spaeth out until midseason, the Steelers need bodies to fill the position. Heath Miller is currently on the PUP list and could stay there for 6 weeks of the regular season if the team thinks he won't return before October. Similarly, Spaeth could be placed on the Injured Reserve-Designated for Return list which would put him out for the first half of the season. In either instance, the player wouldn't count against the 53-man roster limit. David Johnson was activated from the PUP list this week and David Paulson pretty much has a roster spot locked down. Given the injuries, the Steelers might keep a 5th tight end so that they can have 3 active on gamedays, which would open the door for Michael Palmer and Jamie McCoy.

Offensive Line: The top 6 are pretty much set but the rest of the group is a dumpster fire. Guy Whimper was brought in to provide a veteran backup and played so bad at tackle they moved him to guard where he has looked even worse. John Malecki has played the reserve center role in both preseason games and could make the roster based solely on position versatility. D'Anthony Batiste was another veteran that the Steelers brought in halfway through camp that has looked terrible. In short, the Steelers might be scouring the waiver wire to find some offensive line depth.

Defensive Line: The top 3 ends and McLendon are set in stone. However, the play of Al Woods has made the depth battle interesting. Woods excelled at DE in the first game and played primarily nose tackle in the second. Alameda Ta'amu has been mostly invisible in the preseason while rookies Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt have looked surprisingly good. Woods' stock is soaring while Ta'amu, Williams, Arnfelt and Hebron Fangupo are locked in a battle for the 6th spot on the D-line.

Outside Linebacker: With the top 3 locked down, Chris Carter finds himself entangled in a battle for a roster spot with Adrian Robinson and Alan Baxter. Robinson was an undrafted free agent last year who made the roster and Baxter (a UDFA this year) has been impressive in camp. Given the way the inside linebackers have played, it's hard to see more than one of those three making the team.

Inside Linebacker: For a position that many were worried about, the Steelers now seem loaded with young, talented players. Stevenson Sylvester seemed to be the anointed #3 man on the inside, but the play of Marshall McFadden, Kion Wilson, Vince Williams, Brian Rolle and Terence Garvin has turned some heads. These guys have been the most exciting players on defense not named Jarvis Jones so far this preseason and they are always around the ball. The Steelers are going to have to make some difficult decisions, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that 3 of them could find their way to the practice squad if they don't make the final 53-man roster. The way these guys play on special teams over the last two games is going to play a big role in determining roster spots.

Cornerback: For a position devastated by injuries two weeks ago, most of the players have now returned and the Steelers should have a full complement of defensive backs against Kansas City. Curtis Brown seems to have the inside track on the #4 corner spot, particularly given his abilities on special teams. Josh Victorian and Isaiah Green have seen a lot of playing time this preseason and neither has looked dreadful. Fifth round pick Terry Hawthorne saw his first action last week and will need to show he can hold his own on special teams in order to make the squad. The Steelers will likely keep 5 corners and special teams ability will be a determining factor in the last two that are put on the roster.

Safety: With Shamarknado playing the nickel back role in the second-team defense, we haven't seen much of him on the back end. Robert Golden made the team as an undrafted free agent last season and Damon Cromartie-Smith is in a do-or-die year with no practice squad eligibility remaining. Cromartie-Smith missed a block that led to a blocked punt in the Giants game, but redeemed himself with an interception against the Redskins. Golden dropped a sure pick-6 against the Giants so neither of these guys have been perfect. As has been the case with most of the rest of the roster battles, special teams will make the difference here.

Punter: The punting battle between Drew Butler and Brian Moorman could last through the end of the preseason. Butler is averaging 46.5 yards per kick while Moorman is averaging 42. However Moorman's punts seem to have more hangtime, which aided his lead in Net Yardage. This one is still a toss-up, but Butler has looked better to the eye (Moorman has gotten the benefit of some good bounces) and Butler's role as Suisham's holder for his career year will aid Butler's cause.

Projected Roster

If I had to take a guess at the 53-man roster as it sits today, it would look like this:

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

DE: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Nick Williams
NT: Steve McLendon, Al Woods
OLB: LaMarr Woodley, Jarvis Jones, Jason Worlids, Chris Carter
ILB: Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Vince Williams, 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

IR (Designated for Return) - Matt Speath

Practice Squad: Brian Arnfelt, Kion Wilson, Terrence Garvin, Derek Moye, Alan Baxter, Isaiah Green, Jamie McCoy, Reggie Dunn

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