The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to trim their roster down to 53 players come Saturday evening, and some of the toughest decisions will come at the linebacker position. While the final number kept will likely be no less than nine, keeping ten is not out of the question.
We already know that Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones are going to be five of the linebackers and Marshall McFadden is almost guaranteed to be the sixth unless something unexpected happens during the game Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers. That, however, only gives the Steelers three inside and three outside linebackers.
While it is far from guaranteed, Kion Wilson seems to be the obvious choice of special teams coordinator Danny Smith, so that would give the Steelers seven linebackers right there.
So do they really need three more linebackers or just two more assuming all the above holds true? Keep in mind that Worilds is entering the final year of his contract and that Foote could wind up being a veteran cap casualty next offseason. Sure, the team will still have Woodley and Jones as their outside starters next season with Timmons manning one of the two spots inside, but what about the depth on the outside should Worilds not return?
Chris Carter is the most experienced of the bunch right now, but he hasn’t looked good during the preseason outside of his play on special teams. Behind him sits rookie undrafted free agent Alan Baxter, who has shown some upside but is unlikely to be ready to be depended on until later next season. The Steelers might be forced to keep both this year on their 53 man roster with Baxter likely to be on the inactive list at the start of the season in order to protect him.
Assuming both Carter and Baxter are kept, that brings our total number of linebackers to nine, and we haven’t even considered rookie Vince Williams yet. Williams has shown promise during the preseason and should certainly be expected to contribute on special teams this year.
So, being as the Steelers will likely keep five inside guys as opposed to four like they have in previous years, the only way they keep nine in total would mean releasing either Carter or Baxter. The release of either is possible, but it certainly could hurt future depth should Baxter not make it to the practice squad if he winds up being the one that gets waived.
Against the Panthers, keep your eye on Wilson as he will likely be part of every special teams unit. In addition, watch closely to see if Carter and Williams light it up on special teams as well. Nine will be kept, but don’t rule out ten as a possibility.