The Pittsburgh Steelers seem like a team poised to make a deep playoff run. They’ve won six of their last seven games, and only one of their three losses was by more than a touchdown.
Still, with all of that success, there are some red flags on the roster. Some players are either playing themselves out of a job or are not playing because their replacements are putting them out of work snap by snap.
Here’s a look at seven players who’ve got some serious work to do before their 2012 roster spots are assured. For some, it seems like it’s become a no-win situation.
Hampton used to be a beast in the middle who was fearless enough to take on multiple offensive linemen.
Those days are gone. Hampton plays scared way too much now.
I do understand his situation. He’s a beefy guy, well north of 300 pounds and he is getting up in years. He doesn’t have the best knees, so he wants to protect them as best he can. The rules on chopping a defensive player are pretty clear cut and pretty badly against Commissioner Roger Goodell’s edicts about protecting player safety.
Still, Hampton has been much less effective this season (as has the team’s run defense) because he’s afraid of getting cut down from behind and injuring his knees. That kind of playing in fear will only get him off the field faster.
The Steelers might be looking for a defensive tackle in April’s draft and, if Hampton is deemed to be ineffective, his hefty 2012 salary will be deemed expendable.
Polamalu plays hard. He rockets after opponents and tackles them in whatever way he can. He plays with little or no regard for his own body or health. He’s been getting hurt more and more. If he doesn’t adapt to a slightly less violent style of play, he could put himself on injured reserve and eventually out of the NFL.
It hurts to say, because Polamalu is one of my favorite players and certainly one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved icons, but he needs to take care of himself before all we have is memories and questions about what could have been.
Keep you head away from the tackles, Troy. That’s all anyone is asking!
It seems like every year I say something about how Moore isn’t going to make it. He’s still on the roster, but I’m starting to have a hard time believing that’ll last much longer.
Take a look at who's ahead of him. Rashard Mendenhall isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The team is still high on him and he seems to be thriving even more in a reduced role.
Isaac Redman is the No. 2, and his hard-running and pass-receiving skills seem to duplicate if not surpass what Moore brings to the table.
Jonathan Dwyer is a tantalizing piece as well, and one has to wonder if he has more upside at this point than a guy like Moore, who’s much older and fills a niche role.
Moore has been on and off this year in terms of effectiveness—but he has been much less effective lately. He hasn’t had enough workload to be considered as someone who’s wearing down, but there has to be some answer to his struggles.
One thing I’ve noticed is that he’s on the field less and less often.
Maybe not playing is a more accurate description. If you notice, Dixon hasn’t even dressed much this year.
When the offseason began, there were questions about whether Dixon would return. His attitude toward being a backup again (despite showing little or nothing as evidence of his ability to carry an NFL team) was rather poor, but the team still tendered him a deal.
Now, Dixon has spent the entire season as the No. 3 behind Ben Roethlisberger and the ancient Charlie Batch. Even if Batch departs for retirement this offseason, there’s little chance Dixon will be back.
At this point, given the lack of performance, I’m wondering if he’ll even catch on somewhere else. No one appeared interested this past offseason.
Again, this is another guy who isn’t playing but who’s situation is putting him out of work fast.
Colon started one game before going down with a season-ending injury for the second consecutive year.
In his absence, the Steelers seem to have found something with Marcus Gilbert, who’s grown a lot while starting as a rookie. Max Starks has re-entrenched himself on the left side. The team isn’t going to want Colon as a backup.
His hefty price seems to be another harbinger of a coming separation. No backup tackle is worth the kind of money Colon is getting, and after two years of big injuries, you have to wonder if he’s got anything left.
He already lost his starting job. William Gay has actually been one of the season's pleasant surprises, and Keenan Lewis has grown considerably while spelling him. Cortez Allen, despite being a rookie, has exceeding expectations. Curtis Brown, another rookie, is also making a case for some snaps on defense.
Meanwhile, McFadden is on the bench. He plays only on special teams.
Special teams players, mostly, are a dime a dozen.
Bryant McFadden won’t be on the team next season unless something unforeseen happens. The Steelers can save that roster spot for another young corner or for another piece who can contribute as more than just a part-time specal teams player.
That said, he’s done well on special teams, but that work alone isn’t enough to justify his continued employment. Does he catch on somewhere else? Corners seem to have a short shelf life in the NFL unless they have shutdown skills. McFadden doesn’t exhibit those skills.
You can do the math from there.
This is another tough sell. The guy is a phenomenal punter. He has one of the strongest legs in the NFL.
His leg is mostly wrapped in some kind of cast or boot or some other device. He is injured a lot.
Punters don’t get a ton of room for error. It doesn’t help Sepulveda that his replacement for each of the last two seasons, Jeremy Kapinos, has played every bit as well and has certainly made a case for a real, full-time contract with the Steelers.
Sepulveda hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2009. He’s missed large portions of three of the last four years and has a history of knee problems.
I think he’ll definitely find another job, but for now, his time is done. I can’t imagine any scenario in which he returns to Pittsburgh next season unless he chops off Kapinos’ leg. Even then, it’s an iffy proposition.