Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Updating Roster Battles After Depth Chart Release

The Steelers released their first depth chart of the season in advance of Saturday night's affair in New York. While this is nowhere close to the final depth chard and will remain in flux throughout the preseason, it provides an early look at some of the camp battles. In my Training Camp Primer, I identified 27 players that are "Roster Locks" and 13 more that "Should Make the Team" barring any injury or legal problems. Given his performances so far in camp, I am comfortable with elevating FB Will Johnson into the "Should Make the Team" category. Additionally, the Steelers will keep a punter on the roster but have only seen Brad Wing so far because Adam Podlesh has not yet reported to camp due to the impending birth of a child. As we saw last year, the Steelers may even sign someone on waivers to be their punter rather than keeping the player that won the presumptive camp battle.

This brings the roster to 27 Locks and 15 players that Should make the roster, leaving 11 spots open on the 53-man roster. Here's an update based on the depth chart release of the ongoing battles for the last few spots on the roster.

Tight End: Michael Palmer, David Paulson, Rob Blanchflower, Eric Waters

Palmer is a veteran who can play special teams but doesn't bring much to the offense. Paulson has some receiving skills but is still fighting an uphill battle because he still hasn't learned how to block. Blanchflower, the team's 7th round pick, was injured for the first few weeks of camp and hasn't had an opportunity to show much yet. The player that has stood out is undrafted free agent Eric Waters who has a chance to make the practice squad if he continues his string of good play. On the depth chart, Palmer is listed as the 3rd string TE with the rest listed in the "Other" category, which lends creedance to the notion that Palmer is the current leader in the competition.

Wide Receiver: Justin Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye

Even though Martavis Bryant is listed in the "Other" category on the depth chart, he is going to make the 53-man roster. The Steelers are not going to waste their 4th round pick on a player that won't make the roster. Currently, Justin Brown is listed as the second string WR with Heyward-Bey and Moye listed on the third string. This competition will probably last for all of camp but for now it appears that Justin Brown has a leg up on the other two. Depending on whether the Steelers keep 5 or 6 WRs, one or two of these guys could earn roster spots.

Offensive Line: Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning

Even though Wesley Johnson is listed as a third string player behind both Hubbard and Browning, it is a similar situation to WR in that the Steelers won't cut their 5th round pick unless he is vastly outmatched. Coming into camp it looked like a battle between Hubbard and David Snow for the 9th spot on the offensive line depth chart. Then David Snow broke his foot. Currently, Browning is listed as the second string RG and Hubbard as the second string LG. Since the Steelers have 9 linemen (counting Wesley Johnson) that are likely to make the roster, the Hubbard vs Browning battle may come down to whether the Steelers decide to keep 9 or 10 linemen.

Defensive End: Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, Josh Mauro

Arnfelt is currently listed as the second string DE while Williams and Mauro are listed as third stringers. Arnfelt appears to have the advantage in this battle right now, but it could all be for naught if the Steelers re-sign Brett Keisel after camp ends. The Steelers need at least 4 defensive ends that are capable of playing in rotation and possibly more if Cam Thomas also serves as the backup nose tackle.

Nose Tackle: Hebron Fangupo, Daniel McCullers

The Steelers will keep one of these two as their reserve nose tackle. Based on reports from camp, both have been inconsistent so far. Fangupo is listed ahead of McCullers on the depth chart so he has the advantage right now, but that could change as we get into live game action.

Outside Linebacker: Chris Carter, Howard Jones, Vic So'oto

Carter is one of two Steelers players to start games as a 3-4 OLB and never record a sack (Arnold Harrison is the other). Carter is still listed as the second string OLB behind Worilds. Reports from camp have been a mixed bag for Carter while undrafted rookie Howard Jones has turned some heads. Vic So'oto has been an NFL journeyman and is hanging around on the third string with Jones right now. Keep an eye on how these three guys play on special teams as that could be the determining factor in who gets the 4th OLB spot on the roster.

Inside Linebacker: Terence Garvin, Sean Spence, Jordan Zumwalt

Garvin has been flying around camp and is currently listed as the second string inside linebacker. Of the "last 10" spot available on the roster, Garvin is at the top of that list and it seems very likely that he will move off the roster bubble. Sean Spence continues to impress as he returns from his knee injury which kept him out for two seasons. Zumwalt is a player with tremendous athletic ability who simply can't get on the field. He missed OTA's because of UCLA's bizarre trimester schedule and suffered an injury the first day of camp. The Steelers could very well keep 2 if not all 3 of these players.

Cornerback: Brice McCain, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green, Shaquille Richardson

The secondary is an absolute logjam right now. Veterans McCain and Blake are locked in battles with the speedy second-year player Isaiah Green (who pinballed between the roster and practice squad last year) and rookie 5th round pick Shaq Richardson. The initial depth chart lists McCain on the second string, Blake and Green on the third string and Richardson under "other." This will be one of the tightest roster battles as we go through camp and McCain's slight edge on the depth chart shouldn't be taken for granted.

Safety: Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield, Ross Ventrone

Jordan Dangerfield has made a name for himself in camp by throwing some big hits and he leap-frogged Ross Ventrone on the depth chart. Ventrone is out of practice squad eligibility and it seems likely that only one of these players will make the 53-man roster. Dangerfield is certainly a practice squad candidate. Golden may have to out-perform one of the backup corners on special teams to earn his spot on the roster.

Heading into the first preseason game and using the depth chart as a guide, here is an updated prediction of the 53-man roster:

Roster Projection
(Orange = Roster Bubble players)

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB (3): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
FB (1): Will Johnson
WR (5): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Justin Brown
TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer
OT (4): Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Wesley Johnson
OG (3): Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Guy Whimper
C (2): Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace

DE (4): Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt, Brian Arnfelt
NT (2): Steve McLendon, Hebron Fangupo
OLB (5): Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter, Howard Jones
ILB (5): Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Terrence Garvin, Sean Spence
CB (5): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Brice McCain, Sheldon Richardson
SS (2): Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS (3): Mike Mitchell, Will Allen, Robert Golden

K (1): Shaun Suisham
P (1): Adam Podlesh
LS (1): Greg Warren

Practice Squad:
Eric Waters (TE)
Chris Hubbard (OL)
Nick Williams (DE)
Daniel McCullers (NT)
Jordan Zumwalt (LB)
Jordan Dangerfield (SS)
Isaiah Green (CB)

Next 6 Out:
Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR)
Derek Moye (WR)
Antwon Blake (CB)
Bryant Browning (OG)
Josh Mauro (DE)
Rob Blanchflower (TE)

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