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Projected Steelers Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition

Curt PopejoyContributor IOctober 27, 2016

Projected Steelers Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    As the start of NFL training camp approaches, it is time for a look at a projected final 53-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers enter camp with around a dozen spots open, and the competition for them will be fierce.

    It will be quite interesting to see how the Steelers choose to distribute their players this year. After being decimated by injuries along the offensive line in 2013, will Pittsburgh choose to tuck away an extra offensive lineman at the expense of another position? Or maybe with all the questions about the defensive secondary, it chooses to stash away an extra cornerback or safety.

Quarterbacks

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Quarterback (2)

     

    The Steelers have been fortunate to have Ben Roethlisberger under center the last 10 seasons. Big Ben is coming off one of his best statistical seasons, with the promise of many more big years. At 32 years old, Roethlisberger still has a lot of great football left in him.

    Veteran Bruce Gradkowski returns as Roethlisberger’s primary backup. Gradkowski didn’t get any regular-season snaps in 2013, but keeping him in his current role falls right in line with how the Steelers coaches like to handle the position. After having Charlie Batch as the backup for eight seasons, now that mantle has been passed to Gradkowski.

    In this scenario, the Steelers opt to carry only two quarterbacks to the active roster. This means two things. First, it means Landry Jones is on his way out after being a non-factor as a rookie. And second, it means the Steelers will need to be sure to tuck a rookie away on the practice squad.

    That rookie could be Brendon Kay, or it could be a different rookie whom another team cuts loose during training camp. Either way, it could be prudent to lean more away from a third quarterback who is never active and more toward a position this team might need during the season.

Running Backs

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Running Back (5)

    • Le’Veon Bell
    • LeGarrette Blount
    • Dri Archer
    • Tauren Poole
    • Will Johnson

     

    The Steelers’ running back situation is strong as they enter training camp. In Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh has the strongest running back tandem in the AFC North. Both backs have the skills to start, so expect to see plenty of both during the season, as the Steelers try to get back to their roots with more running the football.

    The change-of-pace player of this group is going to be rookie Dri Archer. Whereas Blount and Bell can do a little of everything, Archer’s game is all about speed. The Kent State product is going to be able to impact the offense running and receiving. The interesting part will be just how many reps Archer can get in this offense. Even if it is only four or five touches a game, he promises to be exciting.

    Pittsburgh is one of the teams in the league that still keeps a regular fullback on its roster. Will Johnson is less mauling run-blocking tight end and more H-back, but he is still quite effective as a lead blocker. Johnson’s role will be dependent on just how committed the Steelers are to running the football and the play of the offensive line.

    The last running back on the roster is Tauren Poole. Poole has excellent size at 510, 210 pounds and runs hard with great pad level. He’s never gotten a real shot in the NFL, but going back to his time at the University of Tennessee, you can see his potential.

Wide Receivers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Wide Receiver (6)

    • Antonio Brown
    • Markus Wheaton
    • Lance Moore
    • Martavis Bryant
    • Justin Brown
    • Darrius Heyward-Bey

     

    Going into the offseason, the wide receiver group was an area of weakness. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery were leaving, and there was no one behind Antonio Brown with any appreciable experience.

    Nevertheless, fast-forward a couple of months, and things are looking much better. Brown is ready to dominate once again, and behind him the Steelers have an exciting mix of talent.

    It’s not clear just who will start next to Brown, but fortunately players such as Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant can be interchanged, depending on what the Steelers need.

    Wheaton is a quick, powerful receiver in a mold similar to Brown. Moore is a smart veteran player with dependable hands and a high football IQ, and the rookie Bryant is a towering figure with blinding speed.

    The depth chart rounds out with Justin Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey, both of whom provide size and speed at the back end of the unit.

Tight Ends

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Tight End (4)

    • Heath Miller
    • Matt Spaeth
    • David Paulson
    • Eric Waters

     

    Of all the groups on this team, the tight end unit might be the one that generates the least amount of buzz. Heath Miller is the incumbent and will continue to shoulder the load as the team’s most consistent receiving option. There will come a time when Miller won’t be effective, but 2014 promises to be another solid year.

    The strength of this group really lies in its ability to block. If Pittsburgh really wants to lean on the run game in 2014, Miller, along with Matt Spaeth, will be key. Spaeth won’t wow anyone as a receiving threat, but he is a solid in-line blocker.

    The last two spots on the depth chart are pretty open right now. David Paulson has the experience, so that could give him a slight edge. Pittsburgh currently has two rookie tight ends on the roster, and there’s a real chance that it keeps both over Paulson.

    Rookie Rob Blanchflower is a lot like Miller, which could give him an edge. However, for this exercise, Pittsburgh takes a shot on the more athletic Eric Waters. Waters has some freakish athleticism but is untested as a receiver. However, Waters is a very good blocking tight end, which falls in line with what the Steelers coaches would ask of him.

Offensive Line

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Offensive Line (9)

    • Kelvin Beachum
    • Ramon Foster
    • Maurkice Pouncey
    • David DeCastro
    • Marcus Gilbert
    • Wesley Johnson
    • Mike Adams
    • Cody Wallace
    • Will Simmons

     

    Cutting one quarterback from the final roster allows the Steelers to carry nine offensive linemen. This might seem excessive, but when you consider just how many injuries this group dealt with in 2013, it can’t hurt to stash away an extra blocker.

    There isn’t much to look at as far as the starters go. There could be some changes at right tackle if Mike Adams can beat out Marcus Gilbert. Other than that, things are fairly set with Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, Ramon Foster at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center and David DeCastro at right guard.

    Keeping players such as Wesley Johnson, Cody Wallace and Will Simmons gives Pittsburgh tons of flexibility in terms of positions they can play. Overall, this is a very strong group, especially when it comes to run blocking.

Defensive Line

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Defensive Line (6)

    • Cameron Heyward
    • Steve McLendon
    • Cam Thomas
    • Josh Mauro
    • Stephon Tuitt
    • Daniel McCullers

     

    Other than Cameron Heyward, none of these defensive linemen has a spot assured as a starter. Steve McLendon started last year, but it would be ideal if some other players would step up and replace him. Cam Thomas has the beef to anchor the middle at nose tackle but needs to be more consistent.

    The most interesting group here is the three rookies. After letting Al Woods and Ziggy Hood walk, it was clear that Pittsburgh was on board for a youth movement. Both Stephon Tuitt and Josh Mauro have tons of potential to start at defensive end. Don’t be shocked if both get significant reps.

    Finally, we have the massive defensive tackle Daniel McCullers. I’m not sure what the Steelers will do with McCullers at this point. He plays far too upright to play nose guard, and at 67”, 352 pounds, he’s way too big to play defensive end. I think the Steelers keep him on the roster based on potential, but his role could be seriously limited.

Linebackers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Linebackers (8)

    • Jarvis Jones
    • Ryan Shazier
    • Lawrence Timmons
    • Jason Worilds
    • Arthur Moats
    • Vince Williams
    • Sean Spence
    • Howard Jones

     

    In a 3-4 defense, keeping an extra linebacker or two isn’t a bad idea. The interior group in particular is very exciting. Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons will start and be among the most athletic tandems in the league. Behind them, Sean Spence and Vince Williams provide impressive depth.

    On the outside, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones will start. This means Arthur Moats and Howard Jones will provide rotational depth as pass-rushing outside linebackers. Moats is a veteran player with nice athleticism, and Jones is a raw, albeit exciting and athletic, rookie.

    Overall, this group is solid but will be led by that interior group. Hopefully Jones will step up in his second year and provide a consistent outside pass rush, and Worilds will play hard for that next big contract.

Cornerbacks

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Cornerbacks (5)

    • Ike Taylor
    • Cortez Allen
    • William Gay
    • Shaquille Richardson
    • Antwon Blake

     

    Pardon me if I don’t get giddy as a school girl about this group of cornerbacks. Unfortunately, the Steelers really made no real effort to improve this group, so this season it is going to be more of the same.

    Ike Taylor will likely start at one spot, with either Cortez Allen or William Gay flanking him. Gay is probably the best all-around cornerback on the roster, which is more an indictment of the group than a compliment to him.

    The hope is that players such as Allen, Antwon Blake and Shaquille Richardson are ready to play sooner rather than later and can add some athleticism to this group. Pittsburghs cornerbacks accounted for only three interceptions in 2013, and this must change.

    Depending on how things shake out, the Steelers could carry a sixth cornerback. This would probably be at the expense of a linebacker in this scenario.

Safeties

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Safeties (5)

     

    With the loss of Ryan Clark, there are going to be some changes at safety for the Steelers this season. The one fixture at the position continues to be Troy Polamalu. His skills are diminishing, and 2014 could be a big drop-off year. Fortunately, Pittsburgh does have some nice pieces in place for the future.

    The Steelers brought in Mike Mitchell to replace Clark, but nothing is certain. Second-year player Shamarko Thomas should be pushing for playing time as well. Thomas is the eventual replacement for Polamalu but could see reps in base defense this year as well.

    Robert Golden and Will Allen round out the safeties, and both are nice special teams players who can play free safety or strong safety in a pinch. Overall, this group is solid but far from spectacular. Like the cornerbacks, this group is going to have to count on the defensive line and linebackers to pick it up.

Special Teams

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Special Teams (3)

    • Brad Wing, P
    • Shaun Suisham, K
    • Greg Warren, LS

     

    Nothing outstanding about the specialists for the Steelers at this point. Kicker Shaun Suisham returns and will once again be one of the best and most consistent kickers in the league. Veteran long snapper Greg Warren comes back for his 11th season and should remain a constant for the special teams.

    The one new piece here is at punter. The punter position was a nightmare last season. So this year, Pittsburgh makes a change with second-year punter Brad Wing. Wing has zero NFL experience but showed in college that he has a big leg. Hopefully, Wing can add a new dimension to special teams that this team has been lacking for years.

     

    All player data courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.

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