Super Bowl XLV is still more than a week and a half away and already the Steelers are faced with some tough decisions for the game day roster on Super Bowl Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
It is no surprise that rookie center Maurkice Pouncey is looking real doubtful to be ready after his high left ankle sprain suffered in the AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets. The Steelers are treating it very aggressively thus far, by putting the injured ankle in a hard cast and forcing Pouncey to use crutches to keep all the weight off it. ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell said on Wednesday that Pouncey being ready by the Super Bowl is not impossible, but it will certainly be a challenge. You also have to think he will be no wear close to 100% and his mobility, a key part of his game, will be extremely limited.
According to left guard Chris Kemoeatu on Wednesday, Pouncey will not be ready. If Dr. Kemoeatu is indeed telling the truth, what do you do with Pouncey on game day and who would back up Doug Legursky at center? Trai Essex has been considered the emergency 3rd string center all season, but has never taken a snap at center in a game. In addition, Essex also has been the backup tackle as of late for both Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott. He also entered the season as the starting right guard and can, if needed, play the left guard spot as well. If Pouncey is allowed to try to recover up until game time until his game status is indeed decided, the Steelers would likely be forced to dress under achieving tackle Tony Hills as the 7th lineman if Pouncey is indeed listed as one of the 8 game day inactives. Essex would still likely be the first man in should anyone of the starting 5 go down and Hills the emergency last resort at a tackle spot.
Are there any other options at center? I wrote before the season about practice squader Dorian Brooks. Brooks has spent the entire season on the Steelers practice squad and has worked on learning the center position as well. He is an undersized, converted defensive lineman, that had just under 40 starts in college at guard. The only real plus he has going for him is the aforementioned fact he has been on the Steelers practice squad all year. The Steelers could choose to place Pouncey on injured reserve on Saturday and elevate Brooks to the active roster. If the Steelers did that, they would likely dress both Hills and Brooks and dress 8 linemen on Super Bowl Sunday. Seldom used defensive tackle Steve McLendon is another player that could be waived to make room for Brooks as McLendon is certain not to dress.
Right now, you can pencil in McLendon, Chris Scott, Jonathan Dwyer, Crezdon Butler and Charlie Batch as sure fire game day inactives. Assuming McLendon is not waived, you still need 3 more names on that list. If the Steelers do indeed decide to dress 8 linemen, it could cost Aaron Smith his Super Bowl comeback shot. Smith has yet to be given the green light to start the heavy practice work and would have to be considered a huge and healthy upgrade over Nick Eason, should they choose to sit down Eason. Right now it is not looking good for Smith, especially with the recent injury to Pouncey. Special teamers Will Allen and Arnaz Battle are surely to dress, that is if Allen is fully recovered from his knee injury suffered against the Ravens. Cornerback Bryant McFadden thinks he will be close to 100% by game time as he fights his abdomen injury, so Keenan Lewis might be a candidate for the inactive list if Allen is indeed ready by then. Another player that could go either way is rookie outside linebacker Jason Worilds. He is merely a special teams contributor right now and his game day status is hitched to both Allen and Lewis. Considering the versatility and depth at linebacker right now, Worilds is a luxury to dress on Sundays.
With Battle dressing, it gives the Steelers 6 game day receivers. They could choose to sit down Antwaan Randle El, but I see that highly unlikely as El brings versatility and experience. He also provides the gimmick play factor that the Steelers have been known to use, even in Super Bowls.
It is hard to believe that one injury to Pouncey has made for so many tough roster decisions leading up to the big game. It will also be sad to see it cost Smith a shot to make his return in the big game. On the other hand the injury to Pouncey could open up a spot for him just the same. It is weird how that may work out. Sometimes the 45 man game day roster looks plenty big enough, other times it looks like it should be expanded to 53. A new CBA is nowhere close, but I hope they take a look at expanding the game day rosters from 45 if they do indeed to go to an 18 game schedule. Based on all the injuries both the Steelers and Packers have suffered this season, I hope the 18 game proposal falls flat on its face. As for Super Sunday, I have all the faith in the world that head coach Mike Tomlin will make all the correct tough decisions. I am sure glad I don\'t have to make them.