Steelers Preseason Depth Chart Offered Clues Regarding Final Roster And Practice Squad

By Matthew Marczi

Who would have thought that preseason depth chart moves actually meant something? The Pittsburgh Steelers discretely made a couple of depth chart moves throughout training camp, and it turns out that a lot of them stuck, two of which I previously noted.

First, it was cornerback Isaiah Green moving ahead of Josh Victorian on the depth chart, listed as the third cornerback behind Ike Taylor—which, considering Taylor is the team’s top cornerback, could be perceived as fifth on the cornerback depth chart overall. The Steelers elected to keep five cornerbacks this year, and as it turned out, Green came out as the fifth cornerback kept on the roster.

A week later, following the release of Stevenson Sylvester, it was rookie Vince Williams leapfrogging Brian Rolle, from fourth-string to second-string behind Larry Foote, on the inside linebacker depth chart. Rolle continued to get the second-team looks in the preseason finale, but it was Williams securing the roster spot in the end.

The Steelers did not even list tight end David Johnson on their depth chart until the last preseason game, but when he was finally listed, it was right behind Matt Spaeth as the second-string tight end (with Heath Miller still on the Physically Unable to Perform List at the time, of course). That bumped Jamie McCoy down to fourth-string, also behind David Paulson, and McCoy ultimately was beaten out by veteran in-camp waiver claim Michael Palmer following the game.

Also losing their jobs following the final game, based on the pre-game depth chart, were inside linebacker Marshall McFadden, running back Jonathan Dwyer, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne.

Listed as the second-string inside linebacker behind Lawrence Timmons for the entire duration of the offseason, Marshall McFadden failed to even make the practice squad and seems to have now been signed to the practice squad of the Oakland Raiders. Superior and consistent play on special teams by Kion Wilson won the day. Technically, the Steelers could still sign McFadden to the active roster from the Raiders’ practice squad on Tuesday when they presumably move Spaeth to the short-term IR, but the decision evidently was made final when they elected to add Terence Garvin to the practice squad as the fifth inside linebacker instead.

Jonathan Dwyer had consistently been listed as third-string at running back behind the co-starters Isaac Redman and Le’Veon Bell since the second preseason game, and the Steelers obviously kept more than two running backs. He was beaten out by Felix Jones in the finale, for whom the Steelers traded outside linebacker Adrian Robinson to acquire. Jones was listed as fifth on the depth chart behind LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is now listed as third-string with Dwyer gone.

Hawthorne not only did not make the roster, he also failed to make the practice squad. Devin Smith, however, was chosen for the practice squad, and he had consistently been ranked at the bottom of the depth chart, behind not only Hawthorne, but also Victorian. Yet the Steelers opted to keep Smith, who recorded a diving interception during the preseason, over both players on the practice squad.

Other than Smith and Garvin, however, the depth chart does accurately reflect the decisions made regarding which players to retain on the practice squad. Brian Arnfelt, Justin Brown, Alan Baxter, Joe Long, Chris Hubbard, and Alvester Alexander were all the only or highest player on the depth chart at their positions that did not make the active roster.

Let this be a lesson on how important the final preseason game can be to an NFL roster. Based on the pre-game depth chart—which is admittedly never set in stone—at least four players were able to win a job either on the active roster or the practice squad by leapfrogging ahead of their competition during the preseason finale. I am sure Michael Palmer, Felix Jones, Kion Wilson, and Devin Smith are glad the league has yet to cut the preseason down to just two games.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • steeltown

    Agreed.. preseason is very important for gauging your talent, some fans tend to forget that and despise preseason, I love it because as Steelers fans we get to truly see a few players that WILL be contributing at some point down the line on that long road to the playoffs

  • ScottB

    I still would have liked to see them find a way to keep Hawthorne. They’ll need CBs down the line with Ike/Gay getting a little long in the tooth. It’s unfortunate his knee injury kept him from possibly making an impact.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I LOVE the preseason. I like to see the young guys develop and it makes you excited for the future. Even though we had a poor preseason with victories I think this is the best PS I have ever seen.

  • Craig Ressler

    I just wished I knew what happened with Hawthorne. Certainly there was more to just the injury. I could see them signing him the the practice squad because of the injury and him not having an opportunity to make an impact. But he didn’t even get signed to the practiced squad?! It just seems like there is more there then we know if not it just doesn’t make any sense to not sign someone with his talent and upside.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Why does everyone keep acting like there’s some big mystery behind the Steelers not keeping a few of these players? “There has to be something we don’t know!” Ummm yeah. If you had any clue you’d probably be working for an NFL team, but instead you’re criticizing from the couch. The bottom line is the best players who can help this team in 2013 won the jobs that were available. I don’t see many players slip through the cracks and go on to be successful NFL players after being with the Steelers, so lets give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • dennisdoubleday

    It does make the FO look bad–they knew he would need surgery at draft time. Why draft him at all if you aren’t willing to wait a year to see what he has?

  • T R

    yeah i would like for someone to name one person that has had success after been cut from the steelers. i am having a hard time thinking of anyone..

  • charles

    The final game of preseason may not be important to the guys who made the team. It is important to those who did not make it. They were given a final chance to impress but did not succeed. Dwyer was not playing so much because he was a lock, he was playing so that the coaches could see if there was anything that they could like about him…obviously the fumbles sealed his fate.

  • Kraig Urbik starts for the Bills.

  • John Hinton

    I agree.

  • Craig Ressler

    First person that came to mind too.

  • Jon Crissinger

    Dujuan Harris anyone?

  • Matt Manzo

    James Harrison

  • T R

    james harrison aint even played yet.. how u figure
    on u mean on hard knocks LOL

  • Craig Ressler

    Yeah, I just don’t know how you can like a guy enough to pick him in the 5th round and even sing his praises about his potential and how he would have been an early draft pick had it not been for this or that and then ultimately evaluate him for a week when he was finally healthy and then cut him and not even sign him to the practice squad. To me something just doesn’t make sense.

  • T R

    he aint really done much.. plus we only had him off waivers about a week.. now he out for the season with injury … so not successful thus far.

  • T R

    well he hasnt done to bad.. good name we only had him a year of offseason i do belive.

  • GunsDontKillWoodleyKills

    John Kuhn

  • sean mcmartin

    Rod Woodson won a ring with rats
    Mike vrabel with patsies won rings

  • cencalsteeler

    Nice article Matt. It’s nice to look back and see how the strategies worked themselves out. My concern is now that we only moved to pick up Wallace to bolster our o-line and with Whimper still on the roster, does this mean in hindsight we look back at a latter date only to see a mediocre season? I hope my intuition is wrong.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Steelers never cut either of those players. Their contracts ended. I still think letting Woodson walk was a huge mistake, but no doubt that guy was a stubborn pain in the ass. He’s still the longest draft pick holdout the Steelers have ever had.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    So, in recent years we’ve come up with Dujuan Harris, Kraig Urbik, and John Kuhn. Hardly the kinda losses to be all that dramatic about. I think Urbik was a bad decision for sure, but how many more success stories are there of backup/practice squad players doing well for the Steelers? I bet way too many to list.

  • sean mcmartin

    Woodson was offered a new contract with Steelers, he chose to go to niners for less money. His first Statement to the press was he was happy to go to where he is not the only one relied on to win a game. He also had a terrible season with them. one and done.
    It felt like it did a few months ago when James Harrison was let go. You just know the guy has some gas left in the tank.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    Tomlin indicated that the depth charts were reflective of who he planned to play in each game, rather than being fully indicative of their actual position ranking. What that tells me is that several of the guys who were cut were given opportunities to win their spot and played their way off the team, more than they were beaten out. I expect there to be a fair amount of volatility at least through next week at the bottom of the roster.

  • Tim Collins

    We more in less made an exchange with then undrafted Ramon Foster, maybe he should have been the one drafted.

  • Tim Collins

    Rob Bironas, we had him as a camp leg before.

  • T R

    we knew james harrison had gas left if his tank. But just wasnt worth 6 millions dollars worth of gas.. they tried to get cheaper gas for him but he gave the cheaper gas to Cinci

  • sean mcmartin

    I thought I read they offered him 4 million and he took 2 million with bungles, His first choice was the Ravens, But they signed dumervill and Harrison went to bungles for 2 million a year.