By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers made their final roster cuts today, and they made me and many others look foolish with their predictions. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that they kept just eight linebackers on the roster. It will probably be simplest to go position by position and take a look at who is in and who is out.
In: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
No surprises here, although considering some of the cuts they made, I am certain that many are disappointed in the team’s decision to carry fourth-round rookie Landry Jones instead of trying to put him on the practice squad. However, the team prefers to carry three quarterbacks anyway, and they likely felt it was too much of a risk to expose a mid-round quarterback to waivers.
Running Back: (4)
In: Isaac Redman, Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Out: Jonathan Dwyer, Alvester Alexander
Obviously the big cut is the team deciding to part ways with Jonathan Dwyer upon the arrival of Felix Jones, but at the same time, it could hardly be called surprising. With injuries mounting, he was given the chance to impress, and he put the ball on the ground again. On the other hand, Jones looked comfortable running the zone. The Steelers also save some cap space in the process. With Le’Veon Bell recovering from a mid-foot sprain, Isaac Redman is set to carry the load in the early goings of the season with Jones and Stephens-Howling giving him a breather every now and then. Alvester Alexander has a chance to stick on the practice squad.
In: Will Johnson
Not a surprise, obviously. Will Johnson suffered a hamstring injury, but even if it is significant enough that he has to miss any time, the Steelers have David Johnson on the roster.
Wide Receiver: (5)
In: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye
Out: Justin Brown, Kashif Moore, Reggie Dunn
After the first preseason game, Derek Moye clearly outplayed Justin Brown, and he won the roster spot. His only weakness appears to be route running, where he has some issues. He offers decent speed and excellent height. He is a limited special teams player, however, so he may struggle to be active on game days. Brown will almost assuredly make the practice squad this year. Reggie Dunn blew his chance of making the team as a returner.
Tight End: (5)
In: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson, David Johnson, Michael Palmer
Out: Jamie McCoy, Nathan Overbay
The Steelers elected to carry five tight ends after activating Heath Miller from the Physically Unable to Perform List despite the strong possibility that it may be a few weeks before he is ready to play. Carrying five should be a strong indication that Matt Spaeth will be headed to the ‘short-term’ Injured Reserve List. Otherwise, he would have already been placed on the season-ending IR. There is the possibility that he spends half the season or more as an inactive, but short-term IR seems to be the likeliest bet right now. Michael Palmer has done a decent job as a blocker since being signed, and he has worked his way into the passing game over the last couple preseason games as well, so he should be able to contribute as a veteran player. This also likely means that we will not see much of Kelvin Beachum at tight end.
Offensive Line: (8)
In: Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum, John Malecki, Guy Whimper
Out: Joe Long, Chris Hubbard, Joe Madsen, Mike Golic, Jr.
Nothing surprising here. The first seven have been pretty firm all along, and Guy Whimper has played better the last two weeks. Joe Long and Chris Hubbard both showed potential, and both will likely be retained on the practice squad. The Steelers will likely search for either a ninth lineman or a replacement for Whimper on waivers, but whether or not they find anything is yet to be determined.
Defensive Line: (6)
In: Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods, Hebron Fangupo
Out: Alameda Ta’amu, Brian Arnfelt
Although I had Alameda Ta’amu on my final 53-man roster, I noted in my preseason finale list of notes and observations that if the Steelers were going to go with the nose tackle that is best able to contribute in 2013, they would go with the older Hebron Fangupo. It turns out that they did. I held to the belief that a third-string nose tackle would be allowed to be a project, as Ta’amu was last year, but the Steelers obviously feel good about Fangupo despite already being 28. Still, he is unlikely to see any playing time, let alone be active on game day, with Al Woods serving as the second-team nose tackle. Brian Arnfelt showed a lot of potential throughout the preseason, but he would still likely be the sixth option at defensive end right now if worse came to worst, so he did not need to be on the roster. He should be fine apprenticing on the practice squad for a year.
Outside Linebacker: (4)
In: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter
Out: Alan Baxter
The Steelers had just five pure outside linebackers after trading Adrian Robinson, so it seemed to be a battle between Chris Carter and Alan Baxter. Baxter may very well have outplayed Carter, but the latter was able to show up in the preseason finale. The Steelers chose to go with ‘veteran’ experience and special teams here. Baxter is a lock for the practice squad, surely.
Inside Linebacker: (4)
In: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Kion Wilson, Vince Williams
Out: Marshall McFadden, Brian Rolle, Terence Garvin
This was clearly the biggest surprise move of the whole roster, both in terms of who they kept and let go and how many. Marshall McFadden was considered a lock by some, including myself, who failed to note that he was not contributing at a high level on special teams, and also did not have the preseason that he had the year before. He ran the second-team Buck linebacker spot for the entire preseason, however, and the other second-team inside linebacker, Stevenson Sylvester, was already released. With so many of these players doing well, it is surprising to see them keep only four; however, one must think that inside linebacker is the position most likely to gain a player after Matt Spaeth is moved to short-term IR.
Kion Wilson basically constantly played on special teams, and he also did a good job while playing on defense. Vince Williams was graded by Pro Football Focus as the third-highest inside linebacker throughout the entire league this preseason, earning positive marks in every aspect of his play, including a sack, five defensive ‘stops’, and a pass deflection. He simply played too well to be cut, and should grow to be an integral special teams player. I suspect that either McFadden or Brian Rolle will find their way back on the roster, and Terence Garvin may be on the practice squad, unless McFaden goes there first. There are just too many players with potential to leave with only four total.
In: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Curtis Brown, Isaiah Green
Out: Josh Victorian, Terry Hawthorne, Devin Smith
I find it surprising that Isaiah Green made the roster over Josh Victorian and Terry Hawthorne, not because I do not think he is not a capable player, but because I was surprised that the Steelers were willing to go that way. When in on defense, Green did his job throughout the preseason. He allowed just three receptions on seven targets despite logging 46 snaps in coverage, and added a pass deflection as well. If my memory serves me well, he may also have had another deflection negated by penalty. He also did a fine job as a gunner on special teams—which he should with the speed he has. He is a short cornerback, but so is Victorian.
Curtis Brown is the team’s best special teams player, so regardless of how much of a ‘bust’ of a third-round draft pick he may or may not be, he makes the roster for that alone. William Gay, much to the chagrin of possibly most, is still here to torment you, but he is also a key special teams contributor. Josh Victorian’s whiff on special teams led to a touchdown, while Terry Hawthorne just missed too much time to make up ground. I have a hard time imagining the Steelers would choose to carry Victorian over Hawthorne on the practice squad, but I had a hard time imagining them making a few of the moves that they made today.
In: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, DaMon Cromartie-Smith
Out: Ross Ventrone
As I expected, the special teams ability of DaMon Cromartie-Smith—even after allowing a punt to be blocked very early in the preseason—was enough to finally earn himself a roster spot out of camp. He may have had some slip ups in his safety responsibilities last night, but otherwise he had a good preseason on defense, and it is not like he will be asked to take the field any time soon ahead of the other two promising young backups. Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden, who also appear to be strong special teams players, have cornerback versatility, which paved the way for a fifth safety rather than a sixth cornerback.
Special Teams: (3)
In: Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler, Greg Warren
Out: Brian Moorman
Players that are the only members at their position tend to have a high probability of making the roster, and that theory worked wonders for incumbents Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren this year, who both quickly dispatched with their competition. Drew Butler had to work to earn his spot, but especially by the last preseason game, he clearly beat out the veteran Brian Moorman.
Practice Squad Predictions: Joe Long, Chris Hubbard, Justin Brown, Brian Arnfelt, Alan Baxter, Marshall McFadden, Terry Hawthorne
I predict that McFadden will find his way onto the roster after Spaeth is place on IR, to be replaced by either Alvester Alexander or Terence Garvin on the practice squad.