Pittsburgh Steelers: Analyzing the Final 53-Man Roster and Practice Squad
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster has been set and several members of the team have injuries to thank for making the final roster.
David DeCastro and Sean Spence both suffered devastating knee injuries that will prevent them from being major contributors this season.
The Steelers announced on Friday that Spence would be placed on injured reserve while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette reported that the Steelers are expected to place DeCastro on the injured reserve, allowing him to return to the team in eight weeks.
These aren’t the only players who won’t be available in Week 1.
Rashard Mendenhall, Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester are still recovering from injuries and it is possible that James Harrison could miss the opener as well.
That made the decisions even tougher for head coach Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff. Here is my analysis of the Steelers' 53-man roster.
Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch
There were no real surprises under center as the Steelers kept their three veteran quarterbacks.
Given the injury history of all three, it is wise for the Steelers to keep this a veteran group. All three have had success as starters and each had a strong preseason.
Jerrod Johnson was impressive when given the opportunity, but he is at least a year away from being a legitimate backup.
Running Backs (6)
Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey, Baron Batch, Will Johnson
Rashard Mendenhall is at least a month or two away from seeing action, so right away the Steelers’ roster is short-handed.
Isaac Redman is the expected starter, but Jonathan Dwyer has made a push for a lot of playing time after a strong preseason.
While Dwyer is not as a physical as Redman, he has the greater ability to turn a short run into a big play.
Chris Rainey is the most dangerous weapon out of the backfield and should get a ton of touches in the passing game, as he can lineup as a running back or receiver.
Baron Batch did not distinguish himself during the preseason, but could contribute as the third-down back since he is a better blocker than Rainey and has solid hands himself.
Pittsburgh also kept a true fullback this year with Will Johnson.
Though Johnson will not be in on every play, he has good speed and soft hands for a physical player and could surprise defenses making receptions out of the backfield.
Tight Ends (3)
Heath Miller, Leonard Pope, David Paulson
Heath Miller and Leonard Pope were not a surprise and David Paulson made the final roster after a good preseason.
One of the tight ends will have to be released once Weslye Saunders returns from his four-game suspension. Miller isn't going anywhere so it will come down to Pope and Paulson.
Pope had a tough game last week, dropping a few passes against the Carolina Panthers and has struggled in the blocking department. However, he played under Haley in Kansas City and is unlikely to be cut.
Paulson showed ability as a receiving tight end, but needs to get stronger and improve in the blocking department. He will be a nice addition to the practice squad and could be a roster player next year.
Wide Receivers (4)
Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery
The Steelers have a lot of talent at receiver, but the depth is dangerously thin. One injury and the Steelers are down to three options.
For now, the Steelers were able to keep three receivers on the roster because Rainey can step in when necessary.
One of the reasons only four receivers were kept was because no young receiver stood out to earn a roster spot.
Derrick Williams and David Gilreath both made a push, but neither fit what the Steelers needed from a fifth receiver.
A veteran addition could be possible at some point this year.
Offensive Line (9)
Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Doug Legursky, Kelvin Beachum
As of now, the Steelers have nine linemen, but that number could change. Kevin Colbert told Steelers.com that DeCastro could be placed on the eight-week injured reserve.
The new rule will allow us to bring one person back from IR, once we put that person on IR. DeCastro may be a candidate for that. We haven’t decided that yet. Right now, he will be on our active roster, and we will move forward from there.
Besides this potential move, the only surprise was keeping Kelvin Beachum over Trai Essex.
Essex could play all five spots on the line and it is possible that he could return to the roster if DeCastro is placed on the IR.
However, the move to keep Beachum is not a bad one. While Essex is a proven veteran, it isn’t like the Steelers released a former All-Pro.
Essex did not have a great preseason and while Beachum struggled at tackle, he showed some potential at guard. The Steelers like the fact that he is young and versatile.
With time, Beachum could develop into a better version of Essex.
Defensive Line (7)
Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Al Woods, Alameda Ta’amu
The Steelers have a solid group of defensive linemen heading into the season.
Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood provide the Steelers with two good defensive ends while Casey Hampton proved in the final preseason game that he's ready for action.
Steve McLendon should start ahead of Hampton after an outstanding preseason while Cameron Heyward will get plenty of time giving Keisel a break.
Alameda Ta’amu needs at least a year to develop and Al Woods can play both defensive end and nose tackle.
LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Chris Carter, Brandon Johnson, Stevenson Sylvester, Jason Worilds, Adrian Robinson
Injuries have decimated this unit.
Adrian Robinson can thank the unfortunate season-ending injury—and ability to rush the quarterback— to Spence for making the final roster.
Even excluding Spence, Harrison, Sylvester and Worilds all may not be available to start the season, leaving the linebacking unit very thin.
Chris Carter flashed some potential in place of Harrison, but no one will mistake him for the former Defensive Player of the Year.
Pittsburgh does have a dependable veteran backup in Brandon Johnson, who could play inside or outside if needed.
Defensive Backs (9)
Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Ryan Mundy, Will Allen, Robert Golden
Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen give the Steelers a solid group of cornerbacks to trot out in the nickel formation while Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu form a very good safety duo.
Ryan Mundy will start in place of Clark in the season-opening game at Denver.
Curtis Brown rounds out the group of cornerbacks. He had an up-and-down preseason, but finished strong.
Rather than keep a fifth cornerback, the Steelers kept Robert Golden who had a strong training camp and preseason.
Greg Warren, Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler
Greg Warren has the long-snapping job until he screws up and Drew Butler earned the punting job without a challenge due to an injury to Jeremy Kapinos.
Shaun Suisham is what he is, but the coaching staff still felt he was a better option than Daniel Hrapmann, who had a decent preseason.
Wide receivers Toney Clemons and David Gilreath, tight end Jamie McCoy, offensive linemen John Malecki and Ryan Lee, cornerback Josh Victorian, safety Damon Cromartie-Smith
There were no major surprises on the practice squad, particularly at receiver.
The Steelers kept David Gilreath after flashing some upside as a receiver and returner. Toney Clemons was added based on pure potential.
Clemons has the size and physical tools to succeed, but needs to work on his hands and route running.
Jamie McCoy was a bit of a surprise, but he could be added to the roster if Paulson does not work out. But expect Paulson to take McCoy’s spot on the practice squad after Saunders’ return.
John Malecki and Ryan Lee had good performances, but are very limited, even as backups.
Josh Victorian and Damon Cromartie-Smith were the best of a rather uninspiring group of defensive backs eligible for the practice squad.
While I referred to the roster as the “final” 53-man roster, it isn’t. It will be in flux all season as some players get healthy and others get injured.
The first move will come when DeCastro is placed on the injured reserve and a second when Saunders returns to action.
Pittsburgh may add a receiver at some point if a quality veteran becomes available and they may elect to drop a linebacker as that unit gets healthier.
Players can feel safe today, but things change fast in the NFL and it would not be surprising to see changes prior to kicking off the season in Denver.