With minicamp in the rearview mirror and training camp on the horizon, the Pittsburgh Steelers should already have all of the main components of their offseason roster in place, with all draft picks signed and no more free agents projected to be added until further evaluation.
It’s possible that a need should arise for further additions, either due to poor performance or injuries, once we reach training camp.
But for the time being, we should take a look at the depth chart that the front office has put together since the end of the 2013 season and see how well it stacks up in terms of quality and depth.
Due to the cumbersome lengths that offseason rosters can reach, we will be projecting a number or range of roster spots per position and focusing on that number of players per position, with other potential notables receiving mention below.
Position: Defensive End
Projected Roster Spots: 4-5
Cameron Heyward: Heyward broke out in a big way last season, and as he enters his fourth year, he now finds himself the leader of the defensive linemen after starting just 12 games a year ago. He showed improvement throughout the year, and seems poised to take the next step in 2014. The Steelers will need him to do so.
Cam Thomas: With both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods leaving in free agency, the Steelers selected Thomas to serve basically as the interim starter at left defensive end until Stephon Tuitt is ready to take over. Thomas is a veteran, and although he’s played more at nose tackle, he has the ability to play end. Some may have judged him too harshly based on his previous team’s success. I will reserve judgment until I see him in a Steelers uniform myself.
Stephon Tuitt: The Steelers are counting on Tuitt to emerge as a starter, and preferably sooner rather than later. Dick LeBeau said that he will play a bunch as a rookie, which is rare for him to say. That could be equally about his potential, however, as it is about the team’s needs.
Brian Arnfelt: The second-year undrafted free agent had a strong preseason as a rookie, and continued to develop on the practice squad, which resulted in a late-season call-up. He stands to be an active part of the defensive line rotation this year along with Tuitt if he can pick up where he left off.
Nick Williams: Williams will figure to be Arnfelt’s main competition, however. And there’s been little competition up until now. Williams battled injuries during his rookie year and only got some playing time in one preseason game, missing the majority of the offseason. He’s continued to rehabilitate a knee injury this year, and only recently has he resumed practicing with the rest of the team again. He is a physical specimen, but whether or not he has the skills required of a 3-4 defensive end remains to be seen.
Others: The elephant in the room is Brett Keisel. Will he or won’t he be back? Would he be willing to play for veteran minimum? Do the Steelers even want him back, or has the front office already moved on?
The Steelers have many young defensive ends vying for positions following the dumping of three of their top players at the position. They brought in two more as undrafted free agents in Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer, but both must be considered longshots as of now.