The Pittsburgh Steelers have completed their slate of preseason games, and in fact will be trimming their roster down to 53 players later today. They signed a late addition in the recently released B.W. Webb, a second-year fourth-round cornerback, which certainly throws a monkey wrench into my decision-making here, but let’s try one last time to predict the roster.
The only change to the offensive portion from my last prediction is that I’ve finally relented and allowed myself to believe that the front office is willing to put Landry Jones on the practice squad rather than carrying him on the 53-man roster. And I don’t feel strongly about this either. In fact, I’m almost expecting to be wrong. Nevertheless, the result is that the Steelers carry only 24 players on offense.
Quarterback (2): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski
As mentioned above, Landry Jones’ performance last night, I’m half-heartedly predicting, will be the final straw for the front office, who with two extra spots on the practice squad realized that it can get away with two quarterbacks when one is always inactive anyway. Gradkowski showed up in the third preseason game to make everybody feel a bit more comfortable.
Running Back (4): Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson
Not wavering on this one, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they do add a running back through waivers within the next few days. Both Archer and Johnson carried the ball last night. They can also catch the ball, and Johnson can block. They have four running backs, and don’t need another by any means.
Wide Receiver (6): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Brown
I still think the glut of talent is at the wide receiver position and that they fill up here, despite the fact that they prefer to carry five. The special teams and blocking ability of the bottom two guys, Brown and Heyward-Bey, make the decision easier. So does a potentially prolonged injury for the rookie Bryant.
Tight End (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson
Rob Blanchflower is still too raw. Michael Palmer is a middling talent, and blew a big block on fourth and two. Paulson might not be the most enticing option, but he is the one the Steelers are most likely to go with. I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s not, but I’m fairly confident this will be the case. Besides, Johnson is likely to absorb many third tight end snaps this season.
Offensive Line (9): Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Cody Wallace, Mike Adams, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson
Still no change here. If they don’t carry Whimper, then they have to find a practice squad-eligible tackle that is even worse just to get practice reps, and that’s far from ideal. Johnson struggled in pass protection in the last game, but I think he’s shown enough to stick, especially with the injury to Wallace. So will Adams, for now.
The Steelers signed an extra cornerback yesterday, and I have a hard time believing they did so only to cut him a day later. The team spends most of its time with five or six defensive backs on the field, so this year, they carry an extra one, at least until everybody is healthy.
Defensive Line (6): Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Daniel McCullers
The addition of Keisel and the steady growth of Tuitt, I believe, means that it will be sooner rather than later that Thomas can exit the starting lineup. That means there’s even less need for a seventh defensive lineman. The 53rd roster spot would have gone to Josh Mauro had it not been for the Webb signing.
Linebacker (9): Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Terence Garvin, Chris Carter
Outside of the last spot, I think this position has been pretty much locked up for the longest time. Carter has played reasonably well, and assignment-sound, the past two weeks. And frankly, Howard Jones doesn’t need or deserve the spot. Garvin is also outside-capable anyway.
Cornerback (6): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, B.W. Webb
The injury to McCain means the Steelers carry an extra defensive back for now. Blake and McCain have both played well in spurts this preseason, which is par for the course for players fourth and fifth on a depth chart. They’ve also been heavily involved in special teams, especially Blake, so he’s not going anywhere. Webb could be moved to the practice squad once McCain is healthy, which the Steelers could use to call up Mauro…or Jones. Or McCain could miss the cut.
Safety (5): Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden
I don’t think Tomlin is ready to let go of Allen. That means the Steelers have to carry 11 defensive backs. With the amount of nickel that they play now, however, it might make sense to have extra.
Special Teams (3): Shaun Suisham, Greg Warren, Brad Wing
Suisham had his struggles, but he’s not going anywhere. Warren said he’s ready for the regular season. Wing finally put together a mostly strong performance with one bad punt but a nice overall net average, and I think it’s enough to let him keep his job.
Practice Squad (10): Landry Jones, Josh Mauro, Nick Williams, Rob Blanchflower, Josh Harris, Chris Hubbard, Derek Moye, Dan Molls, Ross Ventrone, Howard Jones
It’s certainly nice to have those extra practice squad spots. I almost had difficulty keeping people. You’ll notice that I keep a seventh wide receiver in Moye. Mauro became the next-best among the young defensive ends, but Williams has lots of potential, so they keep both. Ventrone has quietly played well on defense this preseason, and he exploded on special teams in the finale. He deserves to at least make the practice squad. Shaquille Richardson will join Jordan Zumwalt on injured reserve.