Predicting the Last 5 In, First 5 Out for Pittsburgh's 53 Man Roster
NFL training camps are just around the corner. This is the time where the rubber meets the road so to speak for players. Up until this point, teams have had upward of 90 players on the roster, all vying for those all-important reps.
Once training camps hit, the Turk will be on the hunt. Rosters will be trimmed down on a schedule, and when the final hammer swings, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have their 53-man roster.
The reality of any NFL roster is the bulk of the final group is set. Out of 53 players, the coaching staff already has upward of 40 written down in pen as making the team. That means, of the remaining 50-plus players, they are fighting for fewer than 15 roster spots.
The first- and second-round cuts come quickly. And there are rarely any surprises. However, when that final round of cuts is on the horizon, things get more interesting. There are always some fan favorites who get the axe and head-scratchers among those who stay.
Here’s a look at the possible last five in and last five out, based on what promises to be some pretty heated training-camp battles.
In: Tauren Poole, RB
The competition for the final running back spot on the roster is likely to come down to Tauren Poole and Alvester Alexander. This is assuming that the Steelers keep four running backs on their 53-man roster.
It’s a given that Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount will be the primary running backs. The exact role of rookie Dri Archer is still up in the air, but it’s safe to presume that he will end up taking a running back spot as opposed to a wide receiver spot.
This means that the fourth back may not dress for most games, but he will be first in line, should there be in injury. Poole gets the edge here. Poole is a really good complement to the power run game of Bell and Blount. At 5’10”, 209 pounds, Poole has the quickness and agility to be the lightning to Blount and Bell’s thunder.
Poole has never gotten a chance in the league in two seasons, but he really flashed during his time in Tennessee. Poole has a real shot to be a star during training camp and force Pittsburgh to keep him.
Out: Alvester Alexander, RB
If Poole is the last man standing on the running back depth chart, that means time it is up to Alvester Alexander. Alexander spent the 2013 season on the practice squad, which is a negative on some level.
During the 2013 season, the Steelers’ running back situation was in complete disarray. The Pittsburgh running game needed every player the Steelers could get if they did want to get the rushing game on track.
And even with all that, Alexander didn’t get any reps. None. If he couldn’t find his way to the active roster in a season where Bell missed three starts, and the rushing game as a whole averaged a woeful 3.5 yards per carry, he’s not likely to this year. It's better for the team to move forward and try and find something special with Poole.
In: Wesley Johnson, OT
Pittsburgh must make a priority of being sure that they have the best offensive linemen on the roster at the start of the season. In 2013, injuries tore this group to shreds. With the return of center Maurkice Pouncey, the starters are set. This means Pittsburgh will be making efforts to find the three backups who can do the most for this unit.
For this scenario, I am locking Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper in as reserves. Both played very well when called upon in 2013, and both can play multiple spots on the line. In order to obtain the most out of this group, that needs to be a trend.
This means the final spot on the offensive line should go to Vanderbilt rookie Wesley Johnson. During his tenure at Vandy, Johnson was able to play all five offensive-line spots at a high level. You can’t undersell the idea that Johnson was able to play well as a longtime starter in the SEC. His potential is tremendous and wouldn’t last long on the practice squad or the open market.
Out: Mike Adams, OT
With Johnson winning the battle for the final offensive-line spot, that puts veteran offensive tackle Mike Adams on the outs. Popular opinion might be that because Adams has starting experience and because he is a former second-round pick, he should own the edge.
This is all well and good, except for one thing. Adams isn’t very good. With Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert entrenched as the starters, Adams has a long way to go. Adams is a solid run-blocking offensive lineman, but he's a serious liability in pass protection.
The best bet for Adams could be that he demonstrates he can play some guard and can bump Whimper off the roster. If the best he can be for this team is a solid run-blocking right tackle, there might not be enough room for him. Lack of consistent effort has hounded Adams since college, and nothing appears to have changed.
In: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
The battle for position among the Steelers’ wide receivers is going to be heated from now until the start of the season. Once you get past Antonio Brown, all bets are off as to how this depth chart is going to play out.
It is presumed that second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton is the starter until he loses the spot, with veteran Lance Moore and rookie Martavis Bryant rounding out the top-four spot.
This means that there is going to be either one or two wide receiver spots open for the remaining players on the roster. What this means for Darrius Heyward-Bey is if Pittsburgh designates Archer a running back, Heyward-Bey gets the nod as the final wide receiver.
For all his faults, DHB has elite speed and excellent size. The rub has historically been his hands are rather unreliable. However, as a fifth or sixth wideout, he’ll be a situation sub and could be effective. One caveat is, if Pittsburgh opts to only keep five wide receivers, Heyward-Bey would be on the outside looking in.
Out: Derek Moye, WR
There’s a part of me that is really rooting for second-year wide receiver Derek Moye to make the team. The fight between him and Heyward-Bey is going to come down to the wire for sure.
Moye has great size, but he was buried on the depth chart in 2013. With so much talent on the roster, the odds of him making it onto the final-53 roster is going to be tough.
A lot will depend on how he plays during preseason, but with Heyward-Bey and Justin Brown in the mix, Moye is going to be in a crowded group of wide receivers looking for work. That's not to say he couldn't pass up either of them.
The fact that Brown could still go to the practice squad could actually work in his favor. Nevertheless, if Pittsburgh wants the top talent from the jump, Moye isn't among them.
In: Chris Carter, LB
Pittsburgh has a ton of linebackers. They don’t have a ton of great ones, but there are a number of bodies, in particular on the inside. However, talent on the edges is in greater demand. The starters at this point are Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Nevertheless, beyond them, where will that third pass-rushing outside linebacker come from?
It could be Chris Carter. That’s less an endorsement of Carter and more of an indictment of the outside linebackers on the roster. As Carter enters his fourth season, it is time for the light to come on. Carter’s spot on the roster is still far from assured, but the fact is Pittsburgh needs Carter to step up and play big.
The Steelers know what they have with Carter, so expect the training camp to be spent trying to figure out if they have anyone else. And in the final analysis, it’s going to be Carter who gives them the best chance to be successful.
Out: Jordan Zumwalt, LB
It continues to be a mystery as to why the Steelers even drafted linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in 2013. Pittsburgh already has Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Sean Spence in the mix on the inside. Do the Steelers' coaches think they can turn Zumwalt into a pass-rushing outside linebacker?
That’s not really likely. This is going to come down to the wire for Zumwalt, but unless Spence isn’t ready, or another inside linebacker is hurt, there just isn’t any room at the " Pittsburgh Inn" for Zumwalt.
He could be a prime candidate to stash away on the practice squad, in case he’s needed during the year, but it’s a stretch to keep him on the 53-man roster.
Out: Antwon Blake, CB
Pittsburgh will keep five cornerbacks during the season on the roster. That’s not to say they will dress five on game day, but five guys should make the team. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for players. Guys should Ike Taylor, William Gay, Cortez Allen and Shaquille Richardson should have the inside track to make the team.
This means, of the five remaining cornerbacks on the roster at present, only one is making the team. Of all the guys left, Antwon Blake seems to be the one making the most progress at this point.
Blake is a little bit rough around the edges, but he had two things that really help his case. He is young, and he is fast. This team seems bent on getting younger and faster, so Blake beats out the rest in the final week.
Out: Brice McCain, CB
As I said, several cornerbacks are going to be on the outside looking in. For this exercise, the last man out is Brice McCain. It could just as easily be Ross Ventrone, Isaiah Green or Devin Smith. McCain gets the nod here mainly because his experience should allow him to stick around longer than the rest.
The hard truth is the Steelers don’t have a ton of talent at cornerback from top to bottom. McCain isn’t very talented, and the fact he’ll probably be in the mix to the very end is an indicator of that. McCain won’t be out of work long and should be able to help a team that is short on cornerback talent.