A debate has blossomed over whether the Steelers should play for the win against the Cleveland Browns in week 17, or to evaluate talent. Judging by their roster moves on Wednesday, the Steelers intend to do both.
With no playoff implications for either team, the Steelers could have simply deactivated their most injured men, and limped through the contest. The offseason awaits them once the final second ticks off the clock. However, the Steelers have no intention of throwing in the towel, and took the necessary steps to insure a healthy active roster.
Heath Miller, who sustained severe injuries to the ligaments in his knee, will not return to team functions until sometime in 2013. Miller was placed on injured reserve.
Ike Taylor broke his ankle in week 13, and wore a protective boot until recently. Despite the optimism surrounding Taylor's health while playoff hopes were still alive, Taylor's participation against the Browns will not resuscitate the team's post-season dreams. Instead of risking further injury, Taylor was also placed on injured reserve.
Baron Batch broke his arm this past Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. He underwent corrective surgery on Monday, and will not be able to play against the Browns. Batch became the third player to be placed on injured reserve.
With three empty spots to fill, the Steelers promoted three other players from the practice squad: linebacker Marshall McFadden, safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, and tight end Jamie McCoy. All three players will most likely be expected to contribute on special teams, but each might find playing time at their skill positions as well.
Depending on the flow of the game, Cromartie-Smith could find time in the secondary spelling Troy Polamalu who has been playing through recovery from a calf issue that forced him to miss most of the season. McFadden could find snaps at inside linebacker, in place of either Lawrence Timmons or Larry Foote. Foote is not under contract next season, and McFadden could be seen as a possible future option at the interior spots, at least as depth. McCoy stands the best chance of seeing the field, as he will be the third tight end on the depth chart behind David Paulson and Leonard Pope.
To fill out their practice squad, the Steelers signed DB Walter McFadden and WR Bert Reed.
While the Steelers still claim they will play to win the game, their effort to get healthy unproven players on the roster in time for game preparation suggests they will also be evaluating prospects for 2013.