Nothing new here, neither Charlie nor Jerrod Johnson played in Game 3, so I'm still sticking with Charlie for his experience, leadership, community involvement, and excellent performance in Game 2. Possibly more telling is that Game 3 was designed to be played as if it were a regular season game, so the roster from Saturday should be a good indication of what to expect for the final roster. As such, we saw the majority of the game led by Roethlisberger, with Leftwich stepping in to finish the game, and Charlie at his usual place on the sideline offering expert advice, the coach in uniform we grew accustomed to seeing. This isn't a definite indicator of what to expect, because even if it weren't played as if it were the regular season, it was still Johnson's turn to have the night off. I have heard some rumblings that they may opt to only keep 2 quarterbacks this year, what with injuries eating into their roster space and all, so both Batch and Johnson may lose out, but I still see them holding onto their hometown hero for as long as possible. If they do cut him, then they will have to make room in the coaching staff for him, because the team really just isn't the same without him. Johnson should be in the final round of cuts and headed for the practice squad, with his inconsistent performance in the preseason, less then stellar college career leading to him being undrafted, and a lackluster previous season he shouldn't be very likely to be picked up off waivers. They have a solid quarterback unit this year, and Leftwich has so far been able to remain healthy enough to be the top backup, but Big Ben probably only has a good 5 years or so left in him, and the backups are already in their twilight, so they need to start grooming their future now. If he is made 3rd QB, he will likely get very little reps and miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow within the system, something he obviously needs, and if the injury prone Big Ben and Lefty do go out, would you really want to rely on Johnson to pick up the slack? So Charlie gets the nod at #3 and Johnson heads to the Practice Squad.
As previously noted, Mendenhall being removed from the PUP really makes the situation at running back more difficult to determine. Baron Batch looked like a shoe-in to make the roster as a featured 3rd Down Back, with his excellent blocking and ability to get upfield to make important blocks too he is an asset they can't afford to lose. However, with Mendy injured and missing the first month or so of the regular season, and Redman's nagging hip injury, Batch just doesn't have the ability to step in as an every down back if something unforeseen happens. I would have kept him over Dwyer after Mendenhall returns, but not with the injured Mendy taking up a much needed roster spot. Assuming he returns at top form, Mendenhall can be certain to the #1 back, with Redman being the go-to guy for short yardage and the primary 3rd down back. Dwyer is the #3 HB, stepping is as needed to spell the better players when they get tired or injured. Redman strikes me as the better of the two, able to consistently get yards and power through even when he can't find a hole. Dwyer has more ability on receptions and breaking out for long runs, but he is less consistent and has trouble getting the short yardage first downs when needed. Rainey was the breakout rookie in camp, although special teams has really struggled so far in the preseason games so we haven't seen his ability to shine on returns. He is set to be the #4 HB and #6 WR as well as the top return man, able to have some great breakout plays, although he is still working on his consistency. Jason Ford looked rather impressive on the ground before getting injured, but ostensibly was signed to push for a spot at Fullback, yet hasn't had the opportunity to show if he has any ability there. At the moment he is still a long shot, but he will have another chance to show what he can do in Game 4. Recently claimed off waivers, DuJuan Harris seems like he will be around just to take a pounding so that the starters can stay healthy, he should basically have no chance of making the team. Batch, assuming the likelihood that he does get cut, is an ideal candidate for the practice squad. His knee injury from last year should make him less likely to get claimed off waivers, so they should be able to keep him around. The onky thing to watch out for is if he has an amazing game on Thursday, the Steelers could have to find a way to keep him on the roster. One possibility, that many people seem to think is likely to happen, is they will simply keep 5 HBs, since Rainey can step in the be the 5th WR if needed. I personally don't like this option, but it is certainly possible. Much less likely, but the one I think I would like to see, is if they keep Batch rather than having a Fullback. He has already proven himself as a blocker, if he can learn to shift into position and work as a lead blocker, he can probably fulfill the role in the rare instances that they would actually field a fullback. So it looks like he will be headed to the Practice Squad, but keep an eye on him to see if he can have a breakout game on Thursday.
FB - Will Johnson
I am less than impressed with Johnson, I hear he is capable as a lead blocker, but the few times they gave him the ball he just did nothing. Not that fullbacks need to be able to make plays, but in a team struggling to find roster space to keep up with all the injuries, can you really justify keeping such a limited specialty? We know how Tomlin seems to feel about his "One Trick Pony" players (other than Wallace, who seems to strive as a one trick pony), so unless he can show some versatility, possibly getting some rushes or a few yards on a screen pass, his roster spot isn't necessarily safe. He did win the job by default, thanks in part to his voodoo spells that cause anybody trying to beat him to suffer a debilitating leg injury, so unless something big happens, he is pretty much set to be the #1 FB for the year.
The top 4 WRs have pretty much been set in stone since the offseason began, albeit they are still waiting for Wallace to show up and sign his tender. The rumor mill says he will sign within the next two days, so he should be on the opening day roster. However, he already got passed up on the depth chart, and its quite possible that he will never be the top receiver again. I have Brown at #1 based on his amazing ability to make the catch and break out for some great yardage, Wallace at #2 due to his pure speed and lack of ability to actually run routes, but give him a straight line and he can outrun most receivers, get open deep, and make the catch. #3 is Manny, who is probably good enough that he could start on most other teams, although at times I wonder if I'd rather see Cotchery out there. Manny seems to have Ward's ability to make the catch in traffic, but isn't quite up to the hall of fame level yet, and to a lesser extent his qualities as a blocker. #4 is Cotchery, filling in with the veteran leadership role amongst the wide outs. Cotchery also seems to excel at short yardage receptions and the ability to hold onto the ball and catch in traffic. The #5 WR is still up for grabs, and it should be one of the most closely watched battles in the final preseason game. Personally, I like Williams for the 5th receiver, he is a veteran with experience the others battling for this spot don't have, and he had an impressive showing in Game 3. Considering his only other target was during Johnson's train wreck in Game 1, its nice to see him getting to show what he can do. The other likely candidate for the #5 spot seems to be David Gilraeth, who had an amazing Game 2 performance. I think Gilraeth would be an excellent addition to the Practice Squad, assuming he clears waivers. They could both make the team if the Steelers opt to keep 6 receivers, but that isn't going to happen because of Rainey's flexibility to slot over as a receiver if needed. They could also both make the team if Wallace never shows up. They have been saying for months now that he would sign "soon" so its still not 100 percent guaranteed that he will be around for Week 1, but more likely than not he will be on the 53-man roster. Its also possible that neither will make the roster, I have heard suggestions that they may go with 4 WRs so that they can hold onto all 5 HBs going into the season, but I'll believe that when I see it. Lastly, there are still 3 other players hoping to surpass them on the depth chart and take the #5 WR spot... Tyler Beiler, Marquis Maze, and Toney Clemons are all still in the running for the #5 WR or for a spot on the Practice Squad, but unless they have a big game on Thursday they will end up cut on Friday. Not only do these 5 receivers have to show that they can make some big receptions on Thursday, but to be able to make the team they will also have to show what they can do on Special Teams.
The recent roster cuts made this one pretty easy to call. Miller is the defacto #1 TE, and Pope is currently the #2 TE, although he will yield that honor to Weslye Saunders after his 4 game suspension is over. Paulson is currently the #3 TE, but should end up cut and signed to the Practice Squad after Saunders returns, leaving Saunders as #2 and Pope as #3. It is still possible that they will only keep 2 TEs on the opening roster, but the style of formations they play, and the loss of H-Back David Johnson, leads us to believe they will have 3 TEs. Pope, while he hasn't had anything overly impressive thus far, has proven that he can make blocks with this offense, something he apparently struggled with in Kansas City and Arizona, and has made a couple of nice receptions. Pope is a veteran, has worked under Haley on 3 different teams now, and he is 42 feet tall, making him an amazing red zone target. Paulson has had a good camp, but he is still young and still able to make the Practice Squad, so I don't see him passing up Pope unless he has an incredible performance in Game 4. Lets keep an eye on both of them on Thursday and see what they have to offer.
A couple of injuries and some sloppy play in both camp and in the preseason games, and we come back to what is more or less a lock for the offensive line I have been predicting since the draft. Starks came back from injury to prove he still has what it takes to be starting Left Tackle, especially considering the struggles everybody else given an opportunity to start there has had. Colon moved in from Tackle to be the best Left Guard they have had in ages, and Pouncey is ready to be a Pro Bowl Center again. Foster has proven in the past that he is capable of being a starting Right Guard, although he landed upon the job by chance due to the devastating injury to DeCastro. Gilbert return to start at Right Tackle, although he unsuccessfully attempted to switch the the left when they felt Starks was not going to be ready. Adams is the heir apparent to take over at starting Tackle, although he is currently not ready to start in the NFL, he will get there, although when Starks is gone, Adams and Gilbert will probably end up fighting over who gets to man the left and who is stuck on the right. DeCastro was set to take over as a starting Guard, but with his massive knee injury in Game 3, he is going to miss a very large chunk of the season. As I understand it, they don't plan to cut him and put him on Injured Reserve, from what I hear they hope to keep him on the inactive Roster until he is able to return, probably Thanksgiving at the earliest or the playoffs at the latest. Although he may well not be ready to start when he does make it back. Legursky has proven capable of being a decent short term Center, and will return as the #2 C and #3 G I imagine. Essex, like Legursky, is known for his positional flexibility, something that is really needed now with the injury to their star rookie. Essex will likely be the #2 G, something that would have gone to Foster if he hadn't been forced to step up to start again. Essex will also fill in as #3 C and #3 T, being the Steeler's traditional last resort anywhere along the line. The remaining 4 Offensive Linemen are much less likely to survive the final round of cuts on Friday, since it is very rare for the Steelers to keep anything other than 9 OL on the roster, and roster spots are really hard to come by at the moment. John Malecki and Chris Scott are long shots to make the roster, and probably won't even stand a chance of making the Practice Squad. Ryan Lee still has a slight chance of making the roster, but I honestly don't see him surpassing Essex, especially now that DeCastro is injured, they need more experienced depth. If they choose to keep 10 OL, which would be rare but not unheard of, he definitely earns the #10 spot. He is also a shoe-in to make the Practice Squad if he doesn't crack the final 53. Last is Kelvin Beachum, who has done fairly terrible thus far, but its mostly rookie mistakes that he will eventually learn to overcome. The current starters, other than Starks, are very young, but the squad of backups are getting up there in age, so it is important to start grooming some flexible backups for the years to come. Beachum would be an excellent addition to the Practice Squad, as I've learned they are supposed to have 10 OL between the regular roster and the Practice Squad, and with DeCastro out for months they will need to have 2 extras on the Practice Squad.
The starters were already established as Keisel on the right and Hood taking over for the retired Smith on the left. Heyward is the top backup, able to play both sides equally well. Some people thought he would be vying for Hood's position, and he performed well, but so did Hood, so he is in no danger of losing his job. Woods is the number 2 backup, although Corbin Bryant has also been playing well, so he still has a chance to overtake Woods. Personally, I like Woods for his bursts of speed, and he did have that flashy/lucky interception, plus he has more experience in the Steelers system, so I think he has the the inside edge. It is possible that they will only keep 3 DEs, but I think that is unlikely since McLendon, who can shift over and play the End, is going to be the starter in the middle, probably even after Hampton returns, so they can't rely on using a starter as a backup at another position. The remaining contenders, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, who would be awesome to have around just to hear the announcers struggle with his name, and Jake Stoller are both long shots to make the roster or even the Practice Squad. Keep an eye on Woods and Bryant on Thursday, the battle is technically too close to call at the moment.
It is strange for the Steelers to keep 3 NTs, but this time they just have too much talent to justify losing one. The roster battle was pretty much decided from the beginning, and the recent cuts just helped further prove the pecking order anchoring the line. McLendon came into the offseason ready to prove himself this year, and what a job he has done. He has pretty much solidified himself as the starting Nose Tackle, showing some nice bursts of speed not normally seen in such a big man. Hampton still isn't necessarily going to be ready to step in for Week 1, but when he does return he will likely be splitting duties with McLendon. Neither of them are really the starter, neither is really a backup, because they each bring something the other lacks. McLendon is quick and can get in on the pass rush, making him the obvious choice when they are in the Nickle, but he still struggles against the run. Hampton, on the other hand, is a massive wall capable of tying up two linemen and is a beast at run stopping. Ta'Amu has the potential to become quite a force at Nose Tackle, but he is still struggling with the rookie jitters. Its likely that this will be Hampton's last season, so its nice to see they have such talented young players ready to take the reins.
This is actually one of the most difficult ones to determine, because Harrison and Worilds are both still on the PUP, with no definitive answer as to when to expect them to return. Harrison feels he can be ready to play Week 1, but that end of the preseason is rapidly approaching, so if they feel he can be ready they need to get him off the PUP soon. Worilds, there hasn't really been any news on him and when he may be expected to return, but for the moment we are going to assume that if they remove him from the PUP and place him on the 53-man roster he will be the primary backup on the outside. Carter is currently starting in place of Harrison on the right, but when the injured linebackers return to the roster he will revert to his place as secondary backup. Woodley is the starter on the left, and when Harrison returns to start on the right they become and unstoppable quarterback shattering duo. Adrian Robinson has shown some nice plays, he is fast and seems to get some nice penetration, but Tomlin disparagingly referred to him as a One Trick Pony, and he seems to struggle with making tackles when he does get there, is less effective against the run, and is more or less nonexistent in coverage. He has a bright future ahead of him, and is an excellent candidate for the Practice Squad. However, if Worilds remains on the PUP, Robinson is the next most obvious choice to take his spot on the 53.
With the history of injury in the linebackers, and the questionable return dates of both Harrison and Worilds, it seems likely that the Steelers will keep 9 linebackers one the 53-man roster. Timmons is the obvious #1 MACK and Foote returned to take over Farrior's spot as the #1 BUCK. Some speculation was that Sylvester would challenge Foote for the starting position, but he has fallen further back on the depth chart due to a lackluster performance throughout the entire offseason. Spence has shown some nice ability, although he has shown some obvious missteps in coverage and an inability to complete tackles at times, but he is a rookie and will improve in time, and at the moment should be considered the top backup on the inside. Johnson I arbitrarily listed on the inside, though he is capable of playing both inside and outside, making him the obvious choice for the #9 LB on the roster. He seems to have had a better showing in the middle, but he has made some nice plays, although nothing overly noteworthy. He has had some nice penetration and quarterback pressure, leading to the interception that Woods made. He has also shown some decent ability in coverage, and in the past has been known to be excellent on Special Teams. However, the Special Teams unit as a whole has really struggled to do much of anything this preseason, so we haven't gotten to see what he can do. He also brings in a few years of experience, which is one reason I think he will make the roster over Robinson. With the current string of injuries, they need a more experienced backup in place than to rely on the One Trick Pony rookie. The last two contenders, Brandon Hicks and Marshall McFadden have an uphill battle to even make it onto the Practice Squad.
In recent years, it has been common practice for the Steelers to keep 5 Cornerbacks on the roster, so my initial instinct would be to assume this will be the case again. However, as somebody in the comments of my previous post pointed out, they have an available Safety who also played Cornerback in college, thus he can kill two birds with one stone. In addition, behind Taylor are three talented young players, so they aren't struggling for depth at this position. Taylor is the #1 shutdown corner, and has actually improved his hands in the offseason, so he now has the ability to make some picks. Lewis will be starting opposite Taylor, he has shown he deserves to stay there, but Allen is still hot on his heels. Allen has been referred to by the coaching staff as the Starting Nickle, as they plan to utilize that formation almost as often as their Base 3-4. That leaves Brown as the Dimeback. He has struggled a bit, but had a nice showing in Game 3, but he is still well behind Lewis and Allen. Terrence Frederick has been decent as well, but he is a long shot even if they opt to keep 5 Corners. The reason for this is that dark horse Josh Victorian came out of nowhere with a near interception in Game 1 and a successful interception in Game 3. However, I think Victorian is better suited for the Practice Squad, he is young and needs to improve his game, but he has some nice potential.
As many have pointed out, with Clark forced to sit out Week 1 in Denver, the Steelers are likely to keep 5 Safeties on their roster. The reason I feel Golden has a decent shot at making the roster is due to his positional flexibility. He fills the role of 5th Safety as well as 5th Cornerback, and he has had a pretty good preseason and camp so far. Polamalu and Clark work excellent together as starting Strong and Free Safeties, and Mundy does an excellent job as backup in both positions. Allen is still my choice for the secondary backup, he is certainly not the best Safety, but Tomlin likes him, and he is excellent on Special Teams. However, Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith is vying to take his spot, but so far I haven't seen enough out of him to justify his making the 53. I think he can benefit from another final year on the Practice Squad, and maybe he will return with a vengeance next year.
Suisham was handed the starting Kicker job after the first round of cuts, but personally I never thought there was any doubt. He continues to show amazing accuracy, although lacks the power to get it in reliably at 50 yards... but honestly, if your offense struggles enough that you need a kicker that can regularly make 50+ yard kicks, your Special Teams isn't your biggest issue. He has also shown that he can get kickoffs out of the end zone, and his long-ish term contract guaranteed him a nice chunk of money even if he was cut. Warren was also never in doubt, and the first round of cuts place him as the sole contender for Long Snapper. Finally, Butler has won the Punter job by default, since Jeremy Kapinos has been out with a back injury and has yet to make it onto the field. This is rather unfortunate, because Butler has not shown himself to be a very consistent punter, although he is improving somewhat. Some people point to the punt that was very nearly downed at the 1 as an example of his improved accuracy, but if the player in the end zone hadn't nudged it forward it would have continued on to be a touchback. Not that starting at the 20 is a bad thing, especially compared to the results that occur when the returner gets a hand on the ball versus the Steeler's abysmal Special Teams unit. A good punter needs to be able to not only reliably get the ball in deep, but also to keep it up in the air long enough to either force a fair catch or allow the Steeler's Special Teams unit to get down and touch the ball, or at the very least send it out of bounds within the 10. The fact that Kapinos survived the first round of cuts without ever stepping foot on the field show how much they value him and the lack of faith they have in Butler. But in a race against yourself it is hard to lose, so like him or not, if Kapinos doesn't show up on Thursday Butler gets to keep the job by default.
Jerrod Johnson (QB), Baron Batch (HB), David Gilraeth (WR), David Paulson (TE), Ryan Lee (G/C), Kelvin Beachum (T/G), Adrian Robinson (LB), Josh Victorian (CB)
Ben Roethlisberger (Team/Offensive Captain), Heath Miller (Offensive Captain), Larry Foote (Defensive Captain), Will Allen (Special Teams Captain)