Now that things have died down a bit before the draft, I figured it was a good time to look at the potential roster spots on the 53 man roster that one could consider as being unsettled at this point late in March. Several of these spots will close up quickly as soon as we know how the true status of the players that are unrestricted that might be deemed restricted. Also undetermined at this time is the future of free agent Ike Taylor and veteran Flozell Adams as well. Will there be 21 actually roster spot up for grabs? Highly unlikely. In fact when the dust settles I suspect it will be easy to trim it down to about only 11 or 12 and we will re-visit this again after the draft. Consider this your pre-draft, pre-free agency look at the roster.
This list is to serve as a birds-eye view late in March only. There are certainly a few that might be considered a stretch on this list, but If I thought a spot was not a 100% sure slam dunk, I listed it. Enjoy!
Punter – Jeremy Kapinos ended the season as the Steelers punter after Daniel Sepulveda was placed on injured reserve with yet another torn ACL. Kapinos is still under contract while Sepulveda is currently slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Because of the labor uncertainty the Steelers tendered Sepulveda just in case he is deemed restricted. Mike Tomlin has said Kapinos did a nice job for the Steelers after being signed and said he is comfortable with the progress of Sepulveda as well. Tomlin said the team has options there and also did not rule out drafting a punter in April. Put all of this together and it certainly looks like the punter position is up in the air on the 53 man roster.
Kicker – Shaun Suisham was brought in when Jeff Reed was released in the mid part of the 2010 season. Suisham was fairly reliable and the new kick-off rule will help hide is inability to kick the ball deep with regularity into the endzone on kickoffs. Suisham is an unrestricted free agent right now and the Steelers signed kicker Swayze Waters to the offseason roster as a camp body. There is no guarantee that either of these two will be on the 53 man roster come the start of the 2011 season, so this position is certainly regarded as open on the roster until we get more clarity.
Long Snapper – Veteran long snapper Greg Warren has been a Steelers specialist for years, but he too is currently an unrestricted free agent. The Steelers brought in long snapper Matt Stewart for a brief look last training camp and Warren also has a knee injury history along with a salary that increases yearly. It is not out of the question that another team might have interest in him should we ever have a free agency signing period. For now, it seems the roster spot is unsettled, but I would not rule out Warren returning either.
Tackle – As we sit here in late March, I am going to lump Flozell Adams and Willie Colon together as one roster spot. The reason behind this is because Colon spent the entire 2010 season on injured reserve and Adams was signed to take his place on the 53 man roster. Colon is of course scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Steelers tendered him just in case the rules of 2010 are once again used and he is deemed restricted. Adams has not yet said whether he wants to return for his final season under contract in which he is scheduled to earn 5 million in 2011. I think he will decide to play, but the Steelers might also ask him to redo his contract as well. Both could very possibly be back or both could be gone just the same. If Colon is brought back, Tomlin has said he could be an option to kick inside to guard as well. I merely lumped these two together because one replaced the other on the 53 man roster prior to the start of the season. Heading into the draft, I will leave this spot as being unsettled for accounting purposes.
Swing Tackle – Tony Hills was tendered as a restricted free agent this offseason and will be back in camp. Jonathan Scott is an unrestricted free agent and could be re-signed as well to compete for a roster spot. Hills is a real long shot to make the roster regardless and until Scott is re-signed, you have to consider this spot up for grabs. In addition, the Steelers are very likely to draft a tackle in the first few rounds of the April draft.
Offensive Line – Trai Essex played guard and tackle in 2010 and rookie Chris Scott never got out of street clothes after missing all of camp and the pre-season. With Essex being an unrestricted free agent and Scott\’s role yet to be determined, you have to consider this a depth spot on the offensive line as being unsettled. I doubt they give up on Scott just yet, but being as he was a later round draft pick, he should not be considered a lock for a roster spot just yet.
Backup Running Back – This is the spot currently held by Mewelde Moore. Moore is an unrestricted free agent and as we sit here in late March, there is no guarantee he will be back. The Steelers carried four running backs on the 53 man roster last year and there is no reason to believe they will not carry four again in 2011. If he is re-signed, you can easily scratch this off.
Backup Running Back – This spot is currently held by Jonathan Dwyer. It will anger Steeler Nation quite a bit with me having him on here, but I promise it is not because of how he runs with the football. The reason is because of his play without the football. He has not shown yet he can be counted on in blitz pickup and recognition. The Steelers did think enough of him though to keep him on the 53 man roster all of last season, so he likely will turn the corner in those areas. Until I see it though, I do not consider his roster spot a lock. This may be a stretch, but the tape does not lie in his case. Throw your tomatoes if you deem necessary.
Wide Receiver – I will designate this spot as currently being held by Antwaan Randle El. El is still under contract and his chances look good at returning in 2011. I do not feel comfortable claiming that he has a lock though on a roster spot just yet. The Steelers still have Limas Sweed, who was on injured reserve last year and they still apparently have not given up on him. While not likely, the Steelers could still use a late round draft pick on a receiver as well. For now I will consider the El roster spot up for grabs, barely.
Backup Tight End – Matt Spaeth is another free agent that is scheduled to be unrestricted, but has been tendered just in case he is ruled restricted. Even if Spaeth ends up coming back on a one year tender, it is not out of the question that the Steelers could have him compete with a rookie draft pick or free agent. Right now you have to say that this roster spot is up for grabs.
Backup Defensive End – Nick Eason held this roster spot in 2010, but he too is an unrestricted free agent that I do not see being brought back in 2011. If he is re-signed and invited to camp, he will most certainly have plenty younger competition to beat out.
Backup Nose Tackle – Chris Hoke too is an unrestricted free agent and there is no guarantee that he will be back in 2011. Until he is re-signed, we have to leave this spot open.
Defensive Lineman – You could also deem the spot that was held by Steve McLendon as a wildcard spot. For now I have listed it as a defensive lineman roster spot, but it could just as easy go to an extra offensive lineman as well. Regardless though, he was on the 53 man roster last year and I doubt he makes it back there in 2011. Label this spot what you will.
Backup Inside Linebacker – Right now we will say this is the spot currently held by Larry Foote. He played just under 180 snaps on defense in 2010 and contributed heavily on special teams. He is still under contract and while it seems very likely he will be back, I do not consider him a slam dunk right now to make the final 53 man squad. Another bit of a stretch perhaps, but I call them like I see them.
Linebacker – Keyaron Fox is an unrestricted free agent and likely gone for good. He was also responsible for 7 penalties on special teams last year and that will not help his cause of getting re-signed. If he is some how is brought back, there will be no guarantee he makes the roster.
Cornerback – This spot is currently held by Ike Taylor of course. Taylor is an unrestricted free agent and if he is re-signed then of course this open roster spot will slam shut. Until then, I shall consider it an open spot on the 53 man roster.
Cornerback – This is the William Gay roster spot. Gay is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but has also been tendered just in case the 2010 rules are used again and he is deemed restricted. Until he is confirmed as coming back, we will leave this spot on the roster as up in the air.
Backup Strong Safety – Ryan Mundy filled in for Troy Polamalu in 2010 at strong safety when Polamalu was out with his injury. The Steelers are always looking to upgrade the roster so in no way should that position on the roster be considered a locked up one.
Backup Free Safety – Will Allen was brought in via free agency last offseason, but mostly for his special teams play. Allen played just under 40 snaps on defense in 2010 with most of them coming in blow-outs. The Steelers could easily cut bait with him and eat the remaining signing bonus owed to him.
Defensive Back/Special Teams – Anthony Madison has to fight for his spot every year. His roster spot is certainly up in the air as his special teams play is his best quality, not playing in the secondary.
Special Teams Spot – This is the spot I will put Arnaz Battle in. Battle saw only 8 snaps on offense in 2010, but was used quite extensively on kick coverage units. Despite being signed to a 3 year deal last offseason, there is no certainty he will be back in 2011. Although listed as a wide receiver, the Battle spot would most likely be used on another defensive back that plays special teams should he not make the team.