The preseason is coming to a close in rapid fashion for the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have played their final three exhibition games over the course of eleven days. Roster battles need to be decided over the next week, and tonight's game against the Kansas City Chiefs will be the last for some players.
The men who remain will be legitimate contenders for final roster spots. With the starters expected to play the entire first half, possibly spilling into the third quarter, snaps will be reserved for the first two strings. The Steelers have five positions which do not have clear cut winners yet, but the distribution of snaps and how the players use them could serve to establish a true depth chart heading into the final week.
WR: Derek Moye vs Reggie Dunn
The top four seem virtually locked into the roster with a trio of veterans in Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton is a definite fourth and could push Cotchery for his third spot this year. Rooke Justin Brown seems to lead the race for the fifth spot. If there is a sixth WR spot - or overall extra offensive spot to be had, the top contenders could be Moye and Dunn, although they are competing from different on-field roles. Moye's size and hands make him an interesting receiving prospect, while Dunn's speed make him a special teams standout. In the end, it may come down to who the team believes they can get to their scout team, and which man is most likely to be signed away - if there is a sixth spot to be had. If both are released, the decision could come down to Dunn and fellow rookie J.D. Woods to join Moye on the practice squad.
NT: Alameda Ta'amu vs Hebron Fangupo
No one is exactly sure what the Steelers are planning to do with their defensive line. Will they keep six? Seven? They will most likely keep a second nose tackle despite Al Woods taking second team snaps. Both men have had their moments, but there can - or will probably be only one. Who will get the first crack when the starters come off the field could cement their spot tonight if they reward the trust of the coaches.
DE: Nicholas Williams vs Brian Arnfelt
Staying along the defensive line, Arnfelt has made this a legitimate competition after joining the team as an undrafted free-agent fighting the uphill battle against Williams who was a seventh-round draft choice. However, Williams has been hampered with a knee injury and saw his first action in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins. Arnfelt has been impressive in Williams' absence. If the Steelers keep only six defensive linemen on their final roster, they will likely keep a seventh on the practice squad to develop, with Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and Brett Keisel watching their contracts expire after the season.
SS: Shamarko Thomas vs Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith
Ryan Clark will also see his contract expire after this year, which has the team spying its safety situation. Thomas will make the roster due to his game-changing physicality, but the team has to be concerned about his durability considering his all-out style. Last season, the team kept five safeties knowing the contracts of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy were coming to an end. They may do the same this season as Thomas continues to see time at slot defensive back. Cromartie-Smith's job may be his to lose, although 2013 has easily been his best preseason as a professional. He will need to make believers out of the coaching staff should he continue to see time with the second defensive unit.
ILB: Stevenson Sylvester vs Brian Rolle
The team has been happy with what they got in sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams. They are also pleased with the progression of second-year rookie Marshall McFadden. Rolle has been better than many had expected. Sylvester has missed game time with an ankle injury. If there is a ninth linebacker-slash-special teams position to be had behind Chris Carter, McFadden and Williams, it should come down to Sylvester and Rolle, unless Kion Wilson finds himself on the field and can make a greater impact. Sylvester has received off-season practice snaps on the outside, while Rolle has excelled on the interior. Despite the team's intrigue in Williams, he will probably be an inactive roster member on gamedays, meaning whomever wins the Sylvester vs. Rolle battle should dress. Look to see who gets work with the second unit behind starters Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote when the Steelers take on the Chiefs tonight at 7:30 pm ET.
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