Host Of Steelers Players Entering Do Or Die Mode This Week

By Matthew Marczi

Training camp is always an important time for every player, but it is more important for some—namely, those looking for spots on the roster, and especially the ones who no longer qualify for the practice squad.

Starting this week at training camp, a handful of players on the roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers are entering do or die mode, either due to fulfilling the length of their allotted time on the practice squad or spending too much time on the active roster to qualify for the practice squad. Here is a quick list at some of those players and their likelihood of sticking around in 2013.

DaMon Cromartie-Smith – Having already been a feature on the topic, Cromartie-Smith is as well aware as anybody of the predicament he now faces, understanding that if he does not make the 53-man roster, his NFL career may well be over. Now, last year’s two main backups at safety left via free agency, so perhaps that gives him a fighting chance. But you know Shamarko Thomas is making the roster, and Robert Golden beat him out for a spot last year as a fifth safety. However, part of Golden’s charm was his ability to also play cornerback. It is not out of the question that the Steelers decide to carry Golden as a sixth or seventh cornerback, allowing them to carry a fifth safety again—particularly if both or either Josh Victorian and Terry Hawthorne end up on the practice squad. Realistically, it is a slim chance, but if he has a strong showing in the preseason, it is not inconceivable.

John Malecki – Another veteran of the practice squad, Malecki finally saw his first game action in the season finale last year, and did not embarrass himself in the process. The Steelers lost two starters along the offensive line and parted with one of their key reserves while not adding any via the draft, so you have to think that he has as strong a shot as any outside of Kelvin Beachum to net one of the two to four reserve lineman slots.

Baron Batch – After missing his entire rookie year due to a torn ACL, Batch established himself as a capable special teams player and pass protector last season. However, with the drafting of Le’Veon Bell and the signing of LaRod Stephens-Howling, there figures to be at least one odd man out amongst the running backs. While the size of their contracts play against them, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman pose a formidable threat toward Batch making the roster, and, barring Stephens-Howling falling on his face as a return man, he will have to show that he is more valuable than at least one of those two. What he has shown now may not be enough, and he will have to demonstrate that he can be a more complete player than he was last year.

DeMarcus Van Dyke – Drafted in the third round by the Oakland Raiders the same year the Steelers drafted Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, Van Dyke was a player coveted by the team in that same range, and they were quick to scoop him up after the Raiders released him last year. As a late signing, he had no time to integrate into the Steelers’ defensive scheme, so he did not receive any playing time, even ahead of Brown, Victorian, and Golden. Additionally, his inconsistent performance on special teams raised some concerns. However, his speed and size are just too tempting to give up on, and his first position coach in the league, former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, is in camp this year as an intern. Right now one would have to think that he is in strong position to be the team’s fifth cornerback, and could pass Brown if the latter continues to struggle.

Stevenson Sylvester – Sylvester is another player who understands all too well that he must be in do or die mode this training camp. After all, his position coach, Keith Butler, said as much. Entering his fourth season, he was the only one of the team’s restricted free agents this year that was not offered a tender. Even if he can prove that he can stay healthy, he will likely need to show some position flexibility as well as an improvement in his special teams play. The Steelers could elect to put Vince Williams on the practice squad, making the point moot, but either way, special teams will be a key concern here.

Chris Carter – Another young linebacker who has a hard time staying healthy, Carter is entering his third season facing the very real possibility that he finds himself at the end of the totem pole at outside linebacker. He is clearly behind starters LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds. Coaches are very fond of Adrian Robinson, so much so that they switched him to the right side. There is also no way imaginable that Jarvis Jones does not make the roster. Carter has underperformed not only on special teams, but also on defense when he was given the chance to fill in for James Harrison. If a player fifth on the depth chart at his position does not excel at special teams, what value does he offer? After all, isn’t that the argument against Plaxico Burress?

Glut At Tight End – One thing is pretty clear: if Heath Miller is ready to play on week one, then only one of these players will make the roster. David Johnson, David Paulson, and Jamie McCoy have all used up their practice squad eligibility, and it would be difficult to label any of them a lock. In 2012, Johnson was in full-on fullback mode, set to battle rookie Will Johnson for the spot before he tore his ACL. Now that Will Johnson has secured the fullback spot, David Johnson is back in the tight end race, opening the offseason as the starter ahead of Matt Spaeth despite continuing to be slowed by his ACL injury.

Spaeth is a lock to make the roster, but there is nothing guaranteed behind him. McCoy figures to have little chance of surpassing either Johnson or Paulson after failing to get on the roster the last few years, and he can no longer be tucked away on the practice squad, so he may well be moving on to his life’s work in another month or so. While Paulson played all of last season, and eventually earned the second spot on the depth chart, that does not make him a lock, either. Head coach Mike Tomlin was a fan of his coming out of college; however, Johnson has also been a favorite of the coaching staff. Given his struggles to rehab his knee and his struggles at in-line blocking—and projecting that Paulson will add strength in his second year—it looks like Johnson will be on his way out at well. He may have a short stay while Miller recovers from his own knee injury, but one figures that once he is back, whoever ends up as the fourth man will be gone.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Right on.

    I see Malecki making the 53man this yr, especially if he plays C well in camp

    I don’t see Hawthorne to the PS (atleast I hope not) because he could be snatched up by another Team, same could be said for Vince Williams. Im hoping Vince makes the 53man, I have all but given up on Sly and the drafting of Jarvis makes C.Carter expendable as well. Im pretty sure either guy could be re-signed at a later date if needed (injury) same goes for DCSmith

    I hope Van Dyke gets his head on straight because I see him as a real threat as a gunner on special teams and possibly a solid #5 or #6 on the depth chart, but also hoping we can stash Victorian on the PS this year as well

    I feel the same way regarding your last statement, I think we’ll carry an extra TE initially (D.Johnson) of course only till Miller is 100% then he’ll be gone

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I have been telling people that Carter is on the outside looking in. Not sure if that is how you feel but that is my feelings. Malecki has the best shot followed by Van Dyke, Batch, and Sly having a small shot with Johnson or McCoy having shot if Heath is out.

  • gene mann

    I think Sly will not make the team was a dissapointment last season

  • gene mann

    I agree about Hawthore and think they like Van Dyke size and speed just needs to cut out the ST penalities. I think if Golic or Cheadle can play Center Malecki gone

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I find it funny. For all the talk about how old this team is on defense….we have pretty much ZERO experience in our depth players.

    NT has a first year starter and 2 guys behind them who have never really played.

    Defensive End has Keisel who is old and 2 Former 1st round picks we are waiting to reach their potential and another guy who only has played a backup role.

    OLB has a first year starter and a guy who has had trouble staying healthy, backed up by a rookie, a 2nd year player who hasn’t really played at all, and a 3rd year player who has underperformed and had trouble staying healthy.

    ILB has 2 experienced starters followed by a rookie, a multi-year guy who has been bounced to the PS and back, but never really had to prove himself, and a guy who is on the hot seat in Sly.

    CB has 1 experienced starter and 1 guy stepping in with promise. We have a guy that everyone hated currently being the #3, but knows the defense followed by 3-4 guys who are either a rookie or never really stuck in Brown, Victorian, VanDyke and Hawthorne.

    S has 2 experienced vets, but behind them….a rookie and a 2nd year undrafted guy.

    Now all is not doom and gloom. The reality for me is this team is making a transition. We are getting young guys ready and before we know it we will be mentioning other guys as leaders. Our depth is young, but promising.

  • cencalsteeler

    I too, have given up on Sly and DCSmith.

  • gene mann

    agreed

  • JohnnyV1

    My opinion on Batch and the running back situation is this. I cannot see Redman and Dwyer both making the team @ their current rate of pay, particularly if Bell is as advertised and doesn’t get injured. So Bell backed up by Redman. With Howling, Batch and a rookie fighting for two spots based on their special teams performance.

  • Intropy

    You forgot Spence.

  • Matthew Marczi

    For Carter, I really think it depends on how the other positions shake out, and of course how he does on special teams. If the team can afford to carry 9 linebackers and Danny Smith gets the best out of him on special teams, then I think he has a pretty good shot at sticking around. ILB will be interesting to watch as well, especially if they end up carrying a guy who can flip to the outside, which would also affect Carter’s value to the team.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I was watching a preseason game from last year again and was reminded how often he was around the ball when he was on the field. It’s impossible not to root for that guy.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I didn’t forget Spence, I just don’t count him at the moment. He should be on the ILB list, but I think he will be on the IR the whole year. We just can’t count on him to be ready. Its a shame really cause the kid looked like a player. I think it may be a large factor in why we passed on Arthur Brown, I think they hope Spence will come back next year.

  • cencalsteeler

    Great points Matt. In regards to ILB possibly flipping to the outside, I am really pulling for Worilds to impress at OLB. If things don’t pan out, and Jones becomes the successor, do you think there is a chance they might move Worilds inside?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Realistically, I don’t see them trying him at another position, and I don’t think he’s taken any reps inside, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s no chance of it happening. I would say that it would be very surprising. Of the two, I would think that Jarvis has a skill set more adaptable to the inside than Worilds. Plus, every time I’ve seen any of the coaches address the question of Worilds moving to the inside, their answers tend to be deliberately avoiding being outright dismissive while still making it clear that there’s no reason to think that would ever happen.

  • alex

    you forgot that the OL is one injury away from another slow slide downhill…cant wait for the season to start, but were sooo thin everywhere…

  • DAYSNWAYS

    Dwyer was the best running back on the team last year, when the o’line was clicking he put in a couple of back to back 100 yard games, he is hungrier and fitter than ever, i would be shocked if he doesn’t make the team – Batch is worthless apart from ST, and now we have JJ and Shamarko on ST we won’t miss him

  • Luke Shabro

    You are 100% correct. Carter, Sly and DCSmith can all be cut and signed later if need be. In 2 seasons Carter has done nothing to impress. It’s time to move on. I’d like to keep Victorian. Could turn into a decent slot corner

  • Kenneth Wilt

    There is a difference between being thin and being inexperienced. For instance, Jones may eventually be a great LB, I wouldn’t cut him to add depth for anything, but he is not experienced enough to count on. I think there is a lot of truth to that all over our roster, especially on D.