Pittsburgh Steelers: Predicting the Final 53-Man Roster
As the Pittsburgh Steelers head through their offseason program, there are several roster spots that are already decided. That does not, however, mean that all 53 spots on the final roster will be decided before camp begins in July. Thanks to this year's draft class and the moves that helped get the team under the salary cap, the Steelers have several very interesting roster battles blooming.
Here's a look at how the final roster may look once everything has finally been decided.
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Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich
This is pretty much cut and dry, although I wouldn't be surprised if there was some spirited competition to see who will be the first guy off the bench in relief of Roethlisberger. I'd give the nod to Batch, who has defied age with some great performances in the past few years.
Leftwich will be back again for another year after the Steelers chose not to draft a young quarterback and also didn't sign anyone worth keeping in free agency. Troy Smith will be among the camp arms, but he doesn't have the accuracy or skill to remain.
The only way a guy like Smith sneaks in is if there's an injury in the preseason. That could happen. The Steelers lost Leftwich that way the last two years.
Running Backs (5)
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Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Chris Rainey, Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall
The Steelers will have some spirited competition here in camp. With the departure of Mewelde Moore and the uncertainty surrounding Rashard Mendenhall, there are no guarantees behind Isaac Redman, the presumptive starter.
The Steelers drafted Chris Rainey, but his contributions are unclear at this point. He should be part of the team's return game and may relieve Antonio Brown, who's far more valuable as a starting receiver, on kickoffs.
Jonathan Dwyer is long on potential, and his results in limited moments have been great. If he shakes the injury bug and shows up in shape and ready to go, the Steelers might have someone special that they can use regularly in tandem with Redman.
Batch has a lot of potential, too, and is the best athlete in this group. I'm keeping him simply because he can fit into so many different roles. Mendenhall likely begins the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but he should have a few carries during the year, and the team will keep the door open for him.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends (10)
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Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, Toney Clemons, Derrick Williams
Six wide receivers seems about right for a team that's going to be doing a lot of throwing. Todd Haley's offense figures to be complex with a lot of multiple-receiver sets. That means that the team will want to have plenty of targets.
The first four men are all locks. Wallace's holdout will likely end in mid-June because after that it would be detrimental for him to continue it. Brown is poised for a huge year. Cotchery and Sanders will battle for the third spot, but Cotchery is more valuable to the offense at this point.
Behind those four, I think Clemons and Williams bring the most to the table. There's a lot of uncertainty, but I really like the athleticism and effort both of them have shown in their college careers.
Heath Miller, David Johnson, Leonard Pope, Weslye Saunders
Miller should have a revival in this offense if Todd Haley keeps things similar to his work in Kansas City and Arizona. Johnson also plays the fullback/halfback role in Pittsburgh, so he's a lock as well. Behind that, there are questions.
Pope was the team's lone free agent addition, so he figures to make it. Saunders will have to miss four games at the beginning of the year and should get some competition from David Paulson, one of the team's seventh-round picks. I think Saunders still has an edge, but it will be close.
Offensive Line (9)
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Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon, Mike Adams, Chris Scott
Gilbert and Colon will start at left and right tackle, respectively. That should give the Steelers a set of good bookends. Mike Adams, the team's second-round pick, has a chance to make things interesting and could push Colon inside to a guard spot if he does well. I'm keeping Chris Scott instead of Jonathan Scott because of the versatility and ability to move around.
David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, Trai Essex
At guard, things will look different. DeCastro figures to start from day one unless he comes to camp as a different person. Foster and Legursky will likely be the combatants for the other guard spot. I'd say Foster gets the edge mostly because Legursky is more valuable as a backup. Essex returns again as a super-sub who can play any of the five line spots.
With Legursky to back him up, there's no need to bring along an extra center. Trai Essex would also be able to slot into that spot if necessary. Pouncey himself is unquestionably a starter. He is able to do a lot with little help from his line mates. Hopefully the changes made in the draft will help him be even better.
Defensive Line (6)
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Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward
Hood and Keisel will bookend the defensive line, as they did last season. With the retirement of Aaron Smith, the Steelers will be a lot younger there. Cameron Heyward provides a great backup who can move around if needed. He will push Hood, although there's little chance that he'll unseat him as the starter.
Casey Hampton, Alameda Ta'amu, Steve McLendon
The Steelers will hang their hopes one last time on Casey Hampton, who's in his mid-30s and coming off an ACL injury. If he can't go, I'd have a lot of faith in the rookie Ta'amu being able to step in. I think that even if Hampton is fully ready, he may come off the field more often in favor of the younger players. McLendon is able to slide around the line, so he's a valuable backup.
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James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter
The Steelers have quite the corps of linebackers. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are among the best tandems in the league when it comes to rushing the quarterback. I think a return to health for both will give the Steelers a more vicious defense.
Behind them, Worilds proved last year that he's a capable starter who can also get to the quarterback. Carter had a nice rookie campaign and should be able to play inside and outside this year whenever needed. He'll also be big on special teams.
Lawrence Timmons, Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence, Larry Foote
I think Larry Foote might have a hard time holding onto his roster spot if one of the younger linebackers really develops and shows up big in camp. Sean Spence figures to be a beast against the run and should develop nicely as a guy who can push Sylvester and Timmons for time on defense.
Sylvester looks like the player who will ascend to James Farrior's spot, but he won't get there without a good performance. There are going to be a lot of eyes on him this year, and the expectation is that he'll step up and deliver the way the coaches believe he can.
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Ike Taylor, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, Terrence Frederick
There will be an interesting battle at the second corner spot, where three players will be vying for the job William Gay previously held. I wouldn't sleep on Curtis Brown, who could be the playmaker that the Steelers seem to have lacked at the corner spot.
Allen is another guy who should have a shot. Frederick figures to be the guy who makes the roster but doesn't dress for many contests because he simply will not be needed.
Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy
This area figures to go unchanged from last season. The starters are Pro Bowl-caliber players in every way, and there won't be a challenge to that. Allen and Mundy are as good as they come in regards to backup players. They play well on special teams and provide a great security blanket.
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Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler, Greg Warren
The Steelers didn't do anything to really give Shaun Suisham the competition I feel he needs. He has had a successful yet underwhelming career in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers should have been looking for a player who can give him a good push or even unseat him.
Butler has the leg and the directional ability to unseat Jeremy Kapinos, but it will be a great battle. I think that either player has the potential to be successful for Pittsburgh, but Butler has a little bit more behind his kicks. He's also a little younger, so that could play into it as well.
Greg Warren handles the long snapper duties. That's about all that needs to be known about him. He's as steady as they come.
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The Steelers will have a few spots that will likely go to the wire in camp and the preseason. Here's a look at the two that will probably take the longest to sort out.
Terrence Frederick is a rookie, and he'll have to work hard to keep out any of the other young corners who could get into the mix.
Offensive Line Backups
Kelvin Beachum was drafted with the team's last selection, so he'll have a tough battle, but he has the ability and size to make the offensive line battles interesting. Chris Scott is the most expendable, and he could go if the team feels comfortable with Trai Essex being a backup at tackle.