Roster cuts are always the hardest part of training camps and preseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to make some very tough decisions in the coming days and weeks as they shape the roster they hope will lead them back to the Super Bowl in 2011.
Here's a look at six players who might be on the bubble as the preseason hits its halfway point.
Dwyer showed up at camp in poor condition and overweight, so he basically started in the doghouse. He hasn’t looked good in camp and in the first preseason game and has been outclassed by the team’s more experienced runners.
If he can’t get himself on track, he won’t make the team. The signing of John Gilmore at tight end allowed David Johnson to slide back into his fullback/tight end role, so there’s no pressing need to have four backs on the final roster.
Dwyer will probably be among the second big round of cuts made unless he finds a way to really impress the coaches. His effort in the team's game against Philadelphia was excellent, but it may not be enough to earn him a roster spot given the competition.
Dixon made some headlines as camp opened by refusing to sign his tender until he could find a team that would give him the opportunity to start. Given that Dixon was mediocre in his previous opportunities and is coming off a major injury, that demand was laughable at best.
Dixon finally did sign his tender and reported to camp, but stepped into the first preseason game and went only 1-for-10. He added two runs, which showed his athletic ability, but mostly he looked out of sorts against a poor defensive unit. He played better against Philadelphia, but that mostly came against players who won't make their roster.
Dixon will probably stick around until the final round of roster cuts, but he has some serious competition. There’s no way the team keeps four quarterbacks. Charlie Batch is a fan favorite and an experienced veteran who played a huge part in the team’s success last season. Unless Dixon really brings up his game, Batch will keep him off the roster.
Foote was virtually a non-entity last season after returning from a year in Detroit. While with the Lions, it seemed like he was just out of his realm in a 4-3 system that operated very differently from what he was used to in Pittsburgh. But after a subpar 2010, it seems like Foote might be at the end of the line.
The good news for Foote is that he’s the team’s most experienced backup at linebacker. The bad news is that the younger players have been vastly more impressive both in 2010 and so far in the preseason. Stevenson Sylvester has emerged as the next big star on the inside. Jason Worilds had a solid year on the outside. Rookie Chris Carter looks like he could be something special.
The Steelers take good care of their veterans, but in Foote’s case, it may be a case of numbers. He might just be the odd man out at the end of the preseason because he is the declining player among a group of rising stars.
I wasn’t surprised that Kapinos was brought back. He performed fairly well after Daniel Sepulveda was injured and he earned himself another chance in Pittsburgh by doing that. The problem is that Sepulveda is back and has looked as good as new.
Kapinos doesn’t have the leg strength of Sepulveda, which is a big problem for Pittsburgh. The Steelers love playing defense with 80-90 yards of field behind them. Kapinos can’t provide that consistently, but Sepulveda can when healthy.
I think Kapinos will stick around for awhile until the team is sure of Sepulveda’s knee. Once that seems like a lock, however, he’ll be gone. Hopefully, his preseason work will catch the eye of another team and he’ll be able to hook on somewhere.
Lewis, like Limas Sweed before him, is on his last chance with the Steelers. He’s been unimpressive and prone to big mistakes in his time with the Steelers, and hasn’t yet proved he can be a disciplined corner. It seems that the patience has worn out with him.
The good news for Lewis is that he plays a position that needs a lot of help. Beyond Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, the cornerback depth is wide open. Lewis could play his way into being the third corner. William Gay was brought back, but he’s in a very tenuous position. Lewis' great effort against the Eagles helped his case, but he still has to prove that his great work there is the rule and not the exception to it.
Lewis is another guy who could potentially hang around through the whole preseason, especially with the Steelers being banged up so badly at corner. But he has to impress if he wants to dress on Sundays. If he doesn’t show he’s grown up, he’s likely to be gone.
The Steelers served notice with Limas Sweed that they are not in the habit of waiting for players to figure it out once they’ve been given enough chances. They’ve proven before with others that they do not accept lack of teamwork and preparation either.
John Clay committed the cardinal sin of football last week when he walked off the practice field and said he was quitting before coaches talked him out of it and got him back on the field. Clay is in a crowded group of runners trying to vie for a backup spot. With that in mind, his roster spot was already tenuous.
Now he’s on life support. If he can’t get his act together and prove that he can be a solid contributor in a way that Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman or Mewelde Moore cannot, he likely won’t survive the next round of cuts.