Steelers roster cuts: The NFL's cruelest season

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Or at least the cruelest excepting, naturally, the cuts in February and March, but that's a long way away. I'll think about those in the morning...

A year ago or so I acquired George Plimpton's  "Paper Lion". It is divided into short chapters which makes it ideal for picking up to fill an idle moment. However, this means it has taken me a long time to get through it.

Chapter 24 recently got my attention. In it Plimpton describes the Detroit Lions' method for cutting players. The man responsible for summoning the players was called "The Hawk." At least at that time, the players would be culled from the team meeting, thus insuring they had their playbook ready to hand.

Plimpton noted how agonizing that team meeting was, feeling it was a "heartless procedure." He admitted, however, it was entirely possible there was not a kinder way to do it.

Some of the veteran players told him about how it was done at Chicago:

... George Halas used to reach out and touch a man on his shoulder, and the players seeing him coming, if they were worried about being cut would tend to sidle away. One day he reached out to touch a quick little scatback, a 170 pounder with speed and fine hands, who saw the hand coming for his shoulder at the last second, and dodging it he dropped to the ground with a groan begin to do a series of quick push-ups. "Look," he said, glancing up at Halas, "I'm strong too. I can do these forever." Halas was supposed to have been so touched by the player's desperation that he turned away as if it hadn't been his intention to tap him at all. He kept the player for an extra week, and then came up swiftly behind him in the locker room when the player was skinning himself out of a sweatshirt and got him on the shoulder before there could be any chance of avoidance.

I love going to training camp. It's endlessly fascinating to watch the players and speculate who among the youngsters is going to make an impact. But of course I get fond of them as well, or as fond as you can get of someone you've never actually met. As I watch the bright hopeful young faces, there is always niggling in the back of my mind the realization that sooner or later the piper will have to be paid. Or perhaps it would be better to say "the Turk."

The Turk has been busy in the last day or so. The Steelers made it down to 75 players a whole day early. And things won't get better in the next couple of weeks, either. I would guess most of these cuts were actually the easy ones.

Even if these were the easy cuts, I'm quite sure it wasn't a fun thing to do. How do you decide who just isn't going to pan out? How do you differentiate between those who don't work hard enough, those who work hard but are just not talented enough, and those who just need a little more time and coaching to be special? The first is an easy call, the second much tougher, and the last almost impossible to be certain about, or so I would surmise.

There's always the chance you got it wrong, once you've decided. If Al Woods turns out as well as it seems he may at the moment, the team who drafted him in the fourth round and the other two teams who picked him up and then cut him may feel rather foolish. Somewhat like the Steelers' front office probably feels about third-round pick Kraig Urbik.

In the end, though, if a player isn't producing, all the pedigree in the world doesn't mean a thing. You can't wait forever. ("Forever" in NFL terms meaning "a whole season.")

There is another facet to this. No matter how good the coaching staff, they won't be equally effective with everyone. This is not necessarily the fault of either the coaches or the players. It's just part of the very inexact science of teaching or coaching.

So farewell and Godspeed to Peter Tuitupou and Mike Farrell and Ryan Steed, etc. We never knew ye. And farewell to Baron Batch, whom some of us felt we knew all too well. I was not among them. I have nothing but admiration for this young man and what he has endured in his life and how he has made something beautiful from it. I hope he has a wonderful career as a photographer and artist when he hangs up his cleats.

Stevenson Sylvester, we will miss you on special teams, although we won't miss having to be annoyed anymore by the announcers saying "Sylvester Stevenson." (I fully expect "Thomas Shamarko" to take up the slack in the short run.) And like many on this august site I hope J.D. Woods makes the practice squad, or better yet for him someone else's roster. I liked what I saw from him, but he's a victim of an embarras de richess, as is last year's camp darling David Gilreath.

And, as noted earlier, the pain will only intensify from here on out. I really look forward to getting this interminable portion of the season over with and marching ahead with the chosen few. And I wish all the best to the players who are departing. Hopefully you learned lessons in Pittsburgh which will serve you well elsewhere.

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