Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers' Depth Chart, Post OTAs
After a couple of newsworthy items to start organized team activities, the end to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ OTAs was rather uneventful.
The final OTA session did not go well for the Steelers, as Mike Adams was stabbed in an attempted carjacking and Ben Roethlisberger had knee surgery. While these are a setback for the team, both players are expected to be ready for training camp.
Besides the off-the-field issues, OTAs went as expected for the Steelers. As Mike Tomlin would say, it was “football in shorts.” The rookies had an opportunity to get their feet wet and several veterans were able to step into leadership roles.
Pittsburgh’s pre-training camp workouts will conclude with their mandatory minicamp this week.
Here is the latest prediction at how the depth chart will look for the 2013 season.
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger (injured)
Backups: Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
With Roethlisberger out until training camp, Bruce Gradkowski will get the starters reps. As the No. 2 quarterback this year, odds are that he will have to step in at some point during the season, and the extra practice time will be valuable.
The more interesting quarterback is Landry Jones.
Jones was selected in the fourth round to be groomed as the future backup. He all but assured the third-string role ahead of John Parker Wilson.
As with Gradkowski, having extra opportunities with Roethlisberger out will only help his development.
Starter: Jonathan Dwyer (RB), Will Johnson (FB)
Backups: Isaac Redman (RB), Le’Veon Bell (RB), LaRod Stephens-Howling (RB)
Jonathan Dwyer was the Steelers' best—and most productive— running back last season, but he may not even make the roster this year.
The Steelers aren’t loaded at the running back position, but they will have a lot of competition in training camp.
Though he is currently the starter, Dwyer will have to hold off Le’Veon Bell once camp begins.
Pittsburgh spent a second-round pick on Bell, and he will be expected to perform as the starting running back early in his career.
Bell is a back who can run with power to the inside or outside and has surprising soft hands for a big back. He has the potential to be a three-down back early in his career.
Starting Bell could mean that Dwyer fails to make the roster. Even though he is not their least talented back, he is better served as a starter as opposed to a role player.
Isaac Redman fits in well as a short-yardage back, while LaRod Stephens-Howling—who should beat out Baron Batch because of his return abilities —can fill the role as third-down back. That leaves Dwyer without a spot. But camp is far away yet, and there is a lot that we have to see before dropping him from the roster.
Meanwhile, Will Johnson will once again earn the starting job at fullback and could have a larger role in the passing game, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
There is an outside chance that David Johnson makes the roster as a fullback/tight end if Heath Miller begins the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Starter: Heath Miller (injured)
Backups: David Paulson, Matt Spaeth
Heath Miller is the unquestioned starter once he returns from a torn ACL, but according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there is no set date for his return.
Until then, it will be up to David Paulson and Matt Spaeth to fill the void.
Paulson was impressive as a rookie, earning a spot on the team and getting playing time as the No. 2 option as the season progressed. He will be the top receiving option while Miller is out.
The Steelers brought back Spaeth as a veteran backup, and that is exactly where he should be even while Miller is out.
Spaeth will primarily be a blocking tight end because he is limited as a receiver. Though he has incredible size, he lacks the speed to separate from defenders.
Starters: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress, Markus Wheaton
In just two years, the Steelers have had an overhaul of their starting receivers.
Gone are Hines Ward and Mike Wallace and in are Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
When healthy, Brown is a terrific threat who has enough speed to get deep, but he can also run routes to all parts of the field. The Steelers will especially need him to produce in the red zone.
Sanders will have an increased role this season as he moves from slot receiver to the No. 2 option behind Brown. He is a terrific route-runner who is an ideal fit in the quick-passing attack that Todd Haley began to implement last season.
Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress will temporarily man the third and fourth spots on the depth chart due to their experience.
Both receivers add a physical presence to the lineup, but neither have the speed to scare a defense. Instead, they will have to use their veteran savvy to get open, particularly in the red zone.
In fact, Burress told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he can still “dominate” the red zone.
It will only be a matter of time before both veterans fall behind rookie Markus Wheaton.
Wheaton is a talented receiver who has excellent speed and fits the mold of small, but quick receivers that the Steelers have been drafting in recent years.
Starters: Marcus Gilbert (LT), Ramon Foster (LG), Maurkice Pouncey (C), David DeCastro (RG), Mike Adams (RT-injured)
Backups: Kelvin Beachum (G/T), John Malecki (C/G), Guy Whimper (T), Nik Embernate (G)
For the first time in years, the Steelers could actually have a pretty good offensive line.
The starters are set with (from left to right) Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Mike Adams.
They are young and have a good bit of athleticism, which should provide a nice boost to the ground game as well as in pass protection.
However, the depth is thinner than ever with Willie Colon, Max Starks and Doug Legursky all gone.
Kelvin Beachum will be the top backup at both tackle and guard. He performed well when he was forced to step in at right tackle last season but now will need to master the guard and tackle positions on both sides of the line. He has even received some work at center during OTAs.
John Malecki is a less talented version of Legursky. He needs to be capable of playing both guard and center if he is going to make the final roster.
Guy Whimper is the only reserve tackle with NFL experience and is on the roster by default at this point. A young tackle will have to prove himself in order to make the final roster, but ideally the Steelers will sign another veteran tackle at some point.
Nik Embernate will round out the offensive line depth. He was a priority undrafted free agent who the Steelers brought in for a pre-draft visit.
Starters: Ziggy Hood (LDE), Steve McLendon (NT), Brett Keisel (RDE)
Backups: Cameron Heyward (DE), Al Woods (DE), Alameda Ta’amu (NT), Nick Williams (DE)
The Steelers' three-man front will have a new feel in 2013 as Casey Hampton is no longer in the middle. Instead, it will be the powerful Steve McLendon.
McLendon will not be the same massive presence that Hampton was, so the run defense will suffer. However, he can penetrate the line and will be a pass-rushing presence from the nose tackle position.
Behind him, Alameda Ta’amu is the favorite to be the top backup.
Ta’amu struggled in his rookie training camp, but he does have the size and potential to develop into a good 3-4 nose tackle. The Steelers easily could have dumped him after a poor camp and DUI arrest last season, but they gave him another shot.
Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are the incumbents at defensive end, and they will enter the camp as starters once again.
Keisel will be the vocal leader of the defense and is still playing well, but the same cannot be said for Hood.
There is a chance that Hood loses his spot to the up-and-coming Cameron Heyward.
Heyward showed a lot of potential in limited playing time last season, and he is due for a larger role. That does not mean he takes over for the aging Keisel, but rather Hood.
Al Woods is the best of the rest of the defensive ends and deserves another shot as a backup while Nick Williams has an impressive combination of size and speed that make him worth a roster spot.
Starters: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote
Backups: Stevenson Sylvester, Vince Williams
Lawrence Timmons is the top linebacker on the Steelers, and that should not change this year. He will need to produce at a high level once again.
Larry Foote provides a veteran dependable presence on the inside and is just keeping the seat warm for any young player ready to step up.
There is little depth behind the starters with Stevenson Sylvester and Vince Williams.
Sylvester showed little progression so far in his career and is not a player who has shown that he can step in when needed.
Williams is expected to contribute on special teams as a rookie, but anything more than that would be a stretch.
Meanwhile, Sean Spence told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he expects to play this season, but the odds are against him. Until he can prove that he is healthy, he will be left off the depth chart.
Starters: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds
Backups: Jarvis Jones, Chris Carter, Adrian Robinson
For the first time since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, James Harrison will not be in the starting lineup.
Taking over for Harrison will be fourth-year linebacker Jason Worilds.
Worilds flashed some ability as a pass-rusher last season but does not have the same presence that some of the Steelers' better defenders have had.
He is not particularly good at dropping into coverage or against the run, and he will be pushed hard by first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones.
Jones was a playmaker in college not only with his ability to get to the quarterback, but also by creating turnovers. It is why the Steelers invested such a high draft pick on him. If he does not earn a starting job—and I wouldn’t expect him to—anticipate Jones getting playing time as a situational pass-rusher.
Pittsburgh will also need a big year from LaMarr Woodley, who has struggled for the past two seasons with injuries.
Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson will provide valuable depth.
Starters: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen
Backups: William Gay, Curtis Brown, Terry Hawthorne
Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen are the clear-cut starters for 2013.
Taylor still has the ability to shut down some of the best receivers in the game, while Allen showed that he can force turnovers last season. He is no slouch in coverage either.
William Gay was brought back to compete for the nickel role with Curtis Brown, who is in need of a big showing in training camp.
While you should not expect much from Terry Hawthorne as a rookie, he has the potential to develop into a starter and has a lot of physical tools for secondary coach Carnell Lake to work with.
Starters: Ryan Clark (FS), Troy Polamalu (SS)
Backups: Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden
When healthy, the Steelers have one of the best safety duos in the league with Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. The problem is Polamalu has spent too much time on the sideline, and the Steelers needed to upgrade their depth.
The Steelers went for an overhaul as they allowed Ryan Mundy and Will Allen to leave and will instead go with some new blood.
Robert Golden is an early favorite to make the roster as he is the most experienced backup safety on the roster.
One of the most interesting players on the roster this year is Shamarko Thomas.
The Steelers traded a third-round pick in next year’s draft to get an extra fourth-pick this year to take Thomas. Though he is undersized, he is very fast and has covered anyone from tight ends to wide receivers.
Thomas should make an impact as a rookie.
Kicker: Shaun Suisham
Punter: Brian Moorman
Long Snapper: Greg Warren
Shaun Suisham had an outstanding season last year, converting on 90.3 percent of his field goals. He will return, as will the dependable long snapper Greg Warren.
But there should be at least one new face with the special teams unit.
Brian Moorman was once one of the best punters in the league. Now at 37 years old, he is near the end of his career. That does not mean he still can’t be effective.
Pittsburgh's punting game could have been better last season.
Drew Butler was inconsistent during his rookie season. He would boom one punt and shank the next. Moorman will provide some stiff competition for Butler.
When all is said and done, expect the veteran to come out on top.