For the first time in a longtime, the Steelers will have depth and talent at the offensive line and cornerback spots. They also have some interesting battles going right now at positions where there have not been competitive battles in a long time. Some of those include the third quarterback spot, the fullback position, a starting linebacker spot, and battles all along the defensive line. Here are my predictions for the 53 man roster before a preseason snap even occurs.
QB (3) - Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Jerrod Johnson
Roethlisberger and Leftwich are given's as the teams top 2 quarterbacks but the coaching staff will have a tough choice for the 3rd and final spot between experienced veteran Charlie Batch and newcomer Jerrod Johnson. Johnson has been impressive in camp and has the upside to be a starting quarterback with a couple years of development. He is also similar to Roethlisberger in play style so should he for some reason have to play, it will be less of a transition in terms of offensive scheme.
RB (7) - Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, Chris Rainey (Rashard Mendenhall replaces Marquis Maze when healthy; Maze to PS)
The Steelers have incredible depth and talent at the running back position this year and they could very easily keep five running backs once Mendenhall is healthy. Redman is the starter for now but Dwyer could very easily supplant him by the time the season starts. Behind those two, there is the talented 3rd down running back Baron Batch and the versatile, multi-faceted Chris Rainey. The reason Mendenhall will replace Maze and not one of the running backs when he gets healthy is because Rainey can also serve as a WR5 if the team decides to go empty set with no tight ends.
FB (8) - Will Johnson
Will Johnson has been way better than David Johnson thus far in training camp. He has been leveling people and looks like he could be the Steelers first real fullback since Dan Kreider. As long as he continues to perform through the preseason games, he will rightfully earn the roster spot.
WR (13) - Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Marquis Maze
Despite reports flying around that the Steelers will trade Mike Wallace, I believe that he will be back within the week. This year's wide receiver group with Young Money and Cotchery is as dangerous as any in the league and you throw in Maze as a slot receiver and it just gets better.
TE (16) - Heath Miller, Weslye Saunders (after suspension - Leonard Pope gets spot while Saunders is suspended), David Paulson
Heath Miller is a given to be the team's starting tight end but there is an interesting competition behind him. Weslye Saunders is clearly the teams second best tight end but he will be suspended for the first four games so until he gets back, Leonard Pope gets his spot. At the 3rd tight end spot, it will either be David Paulson or my roster spot wildcard, David Johnson. I picked Paulson because of his upside as a pass catcher.
LT: Max Starks, Mike Adams
LG: Willie Colon, Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert, Trai Essex
The offensive line this year is looking like it could be a really special one. There is talent at every position and solid depth. I have Starks starting over Adams once he gets healthy because he has experience and if he returns to his form from last year, he will likely be better than Adams is currently. The interior starters are pretty much set and so is RT. As far as depth goes, all the backups are versatile besides Adams. Foster can play guard or right tackle, Legursky can play center or guard, and Essex can play pretty much anywhere on the line. We have all seen that Tomlin values versatility in his backups on the offensive line.
LE: Ziggy Hood, Al Woods
NT: Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta'amu, Casey Hampton (once healthy, if Hampton starts on PUP, Corbin Bryant gets his spot)
RE: Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward
The Steelers will likely keep 7 defensive linemen on the roster at all points. With Hampton likely to start on the PUP, Bryant can keep his spot until he gets back. In terms of starters, I think the starters all year will be Hood, McLendon, and Keisel. Once Hampton gets back, he will be used as a backup and will play in sure running situations. Ta'amu and Hood could see time at each others position throughout the season.
LOLB: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Stevenson Sylvester
ILB #2: Sean Spence, Larry Foote
ROLB: James Harrison, Chris Carter
The linebacker battle seems to be pretty much set this year in terms of who will make the roster. Carter was a wildcard coming into camp but he has been dominant so far. I have Spence starting over Foote but that likely won't happen until the bye week at the earliest.
CB (45) - Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Terrence Frederick
This group looks very impressive and has great depth. Taylor is our best corner and will continue to lock down the opponents #1 WR. After him, the battle for 2-4 is interesting. I think Lewis will be the day one starter but I think Allen could supplant him at some point. Brown is a great slot corner as is Frederick. Also, there are rumors that Ike Taylor will be a cap casualty at the end of the season, but unless his play declines dramatically I don't see it. At $6 million a year playing the way he played last year, he is a bargain not an over-paid aging corner as some have called him.
S (49) - Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy, Da'mon Cromartie-Smith
The starters will be the same at safety this year and Mundy will still be the top backup to both safety's. However, this year I have the talented DCS making the roster over Will Allen because Smith can actually play safety while Allen can only play special teams.
K (50) - Shaun Suisham
P (51) - Jeremy Kapinos
LS (52) - Greg Warren
No change to the three special teamers. As much as we would like to replace Suisham, there is simply no replacement on the roster right now.
Wildcard spot (53) - Brandon Johnson, Kelvin Beachum, Adrian Robinson, Toney Clemons, David Johnson
The 53rd spot will be dependent on what the staff is looking for. If they are hoping to keep the special teams at a high level, Brandon Johnson could be the pick as he is a special teams ace. If they want to keep 10 offensive linemen, Beachum is the likely choice. My pick would be the UDFA pass rushing specialist Adrian Robinson. Robinson has been a beast in camp and could be the eventual replacement for James Harrison. Clemons has tons of potential but seems to suffer from Limas Sweed disease. David Johnson has experience and is multi-faceted but is pretty bad at every facet of his game. My pick for this exercise will be Brandon Johnson.
Practice Squad - Jon Clay, Marquis Maze, Toney Clemons, Kelvin Beachum, Adrian Robinson, Corbin Bryant, Myron Rolle, Derrick Williams
Here's an SB Nation video highlighting a similar situation for several NFL teams, and a snapshot into what SB Nation lead bloggers feel about the chances of their respective teams this season.