The Pittsburgh Steelers have a strong starting lineup in place as they look to bounce back from an 8-8 season in 2012.
Ben Roethlisberger will lead the offense, which is full of young playmakers, while the veteran defense looks to get back to rushing the quarterback and forcing turnovers.
As good as the starting lineup looks on paper, the depth is poor. There will be plenty of opportunities for young players to earn spots on the depth chart as the Steelers fill out their roster.
Here is a prediction of how the roster will look as the Steelers kick off the regular season.
(3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
Analysis: Ben Roethlisberger was on pace to have one of the best statistical seasons of his career last season prior to getting injured. Now in his second season under Todd Haley, he should be even better.
Bruce Gradkowski will provide the Steelers with a young, mobile quarterback to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup.
Landry Jones is purely a developmental quarterback and will need a season or two before he will be considered for the No. 2 job.
(4): Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Analysis: The Steelers were not satisfied with their running back production last season and drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round. He will likely earn the starting job out of training camp or early in the season. None of the other running backs are locks to make the team, but they are good bets.
Jonathan Dwyer is the second-most talented back on the roster and can start if necessary. Isaac Redman will continue to play the role of short-yardage back, while LaRod Stephens-Howling can contribute on passing downs and special teams.
(1): Will Johnson
Analysis: Will Johnson is the only true fullback listed on the roster. He had a solid rookie year and could contribute more this season as a ball-carrier and receiver.
David Paulson should see more time in the passing game while Heath Miller is out.
(3): Heath Miller (PUP List), Matt Spaeth, David Paulson, David Johnson
Analysis: Until we know that he is healthy, anticipate Heath Miller beginning the season on the PUP list. That means that Matt Spaeth will take over as the starting tight end. Though he is 6'7", he has never had more than 17 receptions in a season. He will be used primarily as a blocker.
David Paulson flashed potential as a rookie and can fill the receiving tight end role while Miller is out. David Johnson will fill out the depth chart until Miller is ready to return and will be used as an additional blocker.
(5): Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Plaxico Burress
Analysis: The receiving corps will have a different feel without Mike Wallace this year. Expect Antonio Brown to make up some of that production and Emmanuel Sanders to have a career year.
Jerricho Cotchery will be the third option early in the year, but it won’t be long before Markus Wheaton moves up the depth chart. He has terrific speed and will be able to contribute as a rookie.
Plaxico Burress will squeak onto the roster due to his experience and physical presence. However, David Gilreath and Justin Brown will be considered due to their abilities in the return game.
(1): Maurkice Pouncey
Analysis: Maurkice Pouncey is one of the top centers in the game and will be the only true center on the roster this season.
(4): David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, John Malecki, Nik Embernate
Analysis: David DeCastro has bounced back from a knee injury that derailed his rookie season and should begin to live up to expectations at right guard. Ramon Foster will shift from the right side to the left, where he will add a power blocker.
The Steelers will use John Malecki as a backup at guard, though he will likely come off the bench after Kelvin Beachum. He will also learn the center position. Expect Nik Embernate to find his way on the roster with his physical style of play.
(4): Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Guy Whimper
Analysis: The Steelers will have a new left tackle in Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Adams will start at right tackle, where he can better use his abilities as a run blocker. There will be some growing pains as these two settle into their positions.
Kelvin Beachum was a pleasant surprise as a seventh-round draft choice last season. He held his own starting at right tackle last season and has earned the position as the top backup at guard, tackle and possibly even center.
The final roster spot will be a tight battle, but in the end the coaching staff will go with the veteran Guy Whimper.
(4): Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods
Analysis: At 34 years old, Brett Keisel is the oldest starter on defense. He will take over as a vocal leader this season.
Ziggy Hood will once again start the year at left defensive end, but he has not lived up to his first-round draft status. At some point, fellow first-round selection Cameron Heyward may begin to take some snaps from Hood.
At 6’4” and 307 pounds, Al Woods will get snaps at defensive end, but he may shift inside to nose tackle.
(2): Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu
Analysis: It has been years of hard work, but Steve McLendon will finally be the starter at nose tackle. This will give the defense a different feel, as he can defend the run and rush the quarterback.
Alameda Ta’amu had a poor camp last year, but at 6’3” and 348 pounds, he has tremendous size and strength to anchor the middle. He is, however, still a work in progress.
(5): Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Vince Williams, Marshall McFadden, Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence (PUP List)
Analysis: The Steelers have a strong duo at inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote.
Timmons is an outstanding playmaker who may be in line for his first Pro Bowl appearance this year,, while Foote is a steady presence in the middle.
The rookie Vince Williams will be an asset on special teams and compete for a backup job. A surprise name is Marshall McFadden, who had a strong performance last preseason and looks to improve this year.
Stevenson Sylvester will make the roster as a versatile backup who can play inside or outside as well as special teams.
(4): LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Adrian Robinson
Analysis: LaMarr Woodley’s conditioning will be a big topic of conversation. If he is back in shape, he should be in store for a big year.
Jason Worilds will take over for James Harrison on the right side. He needs to develop his skills outside of rushing the passer.
First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones will compete with Worilds but will likely be limited to a pass-rushing specialist this year. He will be expected to contribute on special teams as well.
Adrian Robinson can rush the passer and is capable of playing on special teams, making him a valuable asset at the bottom of the depth chart.
(6): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Terry Hawthorne
Analysis: Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen provide the Steelers with two big, physical and athletic starters at cornerback. Allen brings playmaking ability to the cornerback position that the Steelers haven’t had in years.
The veteran William Gay was re-signed from the Arizona Cardinals to be the Steelers' nickelback. Curtis Brown will be the fourth cornerback. He is also one of the top special teams players.
DeMarcus Van Dyke is a physical specimen at 6’1” and has terrific speed. He is worth a roster spot based on his potential, as is rookie Terry Hawthorne.
(4): Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas
Analysis: The Steelers will need Troy Polamalu to stay healthy if they want to improve their turnover numbers this season. He only played in seven games last year.
Ryan Clark was one of the most consistent performers on the defense and is in the final year of his contract. Even at the age of 33, he is playing some of his best football.
For the first time in years, the Steelers have potential behind their safeties with Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas. Both players could eventually see time on passing downs.
(3): Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler, Greg Warren
Analysis: Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren are expected to maintain their spots on the roster.
Drew Butler will have to compete with Brian Moorman, but the Steelers will keep the younger option.
Here are the final five players to make the roster:
Sylvester earns a spot over Chris Carter because of his ability to play on the inside or outside. He is capable of shining on special teams, something Carter has not done.
DeMarcus Van Dyke
Carnell Lake has done a terrific job developing defensive backs. Van Dyke’s physical tools—6’1” and a 40-yard dash time below 4.30 seconds—cannot be taught. He is worth a spot to give him time to develop.
Hawthorne had a terrific junior season before falling off as a senior. He has a high upside, and the Steelers need to tap into his potential. Teams can never have enough quality cornerbacks.
The Steelers need depth on the offensive line. Embernate is the best of their young options.
Burress’ spot on the roster will come down to his veteran knowledge of the position versus his lack of value on special teams. The other receiving options in camp cannot bring the size that Burress does, but at the bottom of the depth chart, their value will be on special teams. He will be pushed, but Burress will get one more opportunity due to his size and physical presence.
Here are the final five players to just miss out making the final roster:
Chris Carter didn't produce when provided an opportunity to start last season and does not excel on special teams.
Baron Batch has yet to establish himself as an effective third-down back. At this point, Stephens-Howling is just a better option.
The lack of experience will hurt Nick Williams’ chances of making the team. Defensive ends need time to develop in the Steelers’ defensive system. He will need to spend time on the practice squad before he can contribute.
There are a lot of options at cornerback, and Josh Victorian has a good chance of making the team. Van Dyke and Hawthorne just have more upside.
David Gilreath can return kicks and played in three games for the Steelers last year. A great training camp and a strong showing in the return game could earn him a spot on the roster.