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Steelers roster battles: Evaluating key position competitions after Steelers fall 20-16 to Giants

With the Steelers loss to the Giants in the first game of the preseason, several players rose and some fell in the pecking order at their positions.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Steeler football is back.

Despite the fact that if you blinked, you missed Ben Roethlisberger playing, it was Steeler football none the less. As expected, the Steelers saw many positives and negatives. Some helped their depth chart position, some didn't.

Ultimately, the loss isn't what the Steelers wanted, but the coaching staff learned a lot about their team in game situations. Below are stats and notes on several key position battles and where they are at following the first game.


It's impossible to argue whether Brad Wing was the best Steelers punter on the field Saturday night. It can't be disputed because he was the only Steelers punter Saturday night. Adam Podlesh has yet to report to camp as he waits with his pregnant wife. Because of Podleh's absence, Wing had sole possession of punting duties.

Even with Podlesh missing two weeks of camp and a preseason game, Wing hasn't done anything that prevents Podlesh from having a shot at the job if or when he reports.

On his first punt at the Meadowlands, Wing didn't have the opportunity to show off his leg. He had a 22-yard punt that kept the ball from reaching the goal line. Nothing spectacular, but his punt got the job done.

On his second punt, Wing showed off the hang-time he has displayed in camp as of late.

On his third punt, though, Wing had what Tomlin likes to call a "junior-varsity punt." His punt went 21 yards and was behind his coverage. Usually it is a good sign when your kick coverage can beat the ball, but this wasn't the case for the Steelers on this punt. To further illustrate the junior-varsity punt, the Giants went three-and-out yet still made a field goal.

Wing got on track later in the game with a 51-yard punt to open up the second half. But, it is still hard to forget his previous punt.

Wing still remains the starter by default just because of the fact that he has no current competition.

Defensive Line

Against the Giants Saturday evening, Stephon Tuitt showed early flashes of potential. He didn't play at an All-Pro level by any stretch, but for his first game, he had a solid outing. As the starting left defensive end, Tuitt displayed strong inside penetration. He did commit a false-start penalty. But, he made up for it with his play.

The Giants ran to Tuitt's side often, yet he did a decent job holding at the point of attack. He displayed speed and agility at times as well.

Tuitt has all the tools. But whether or not he becomes a starter depends on how soon he can put all of the tools together. Once he does, he is going to be a dominant player.

The other player competing for the starting left end spot is Cam Thomas. Thomas didn't see the field until the third defensive series, and that was as a nose-tackle. Starter Steve McLendon was inactive for the night, requiring Thomas to fill in. Thomas' first play in, he gets double-teamed and isn't able to anchor. But, when he came in the next series, Thomas tackled the running back for a two yard gain after Thomas displayed the ability to stack and shed.

When Heyward, Tuitt, and Thomas came out, Josh Mauro, Hebron Fangupo, and Ethan Hemer came in. Mauro displayed athleticism and power as he provided a solid interior rush at times. Hemer and Fangupo didn't make any noticeable errors, but nothing dazzled about the two either.

One thing to note is that second year defensive ends Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams didn't see the field until late into the third quarter. While this may have been part of the coaches game plan to see more of Hemer and Mauro, it is not a good sign for either Arnfelt or Williams.

Despite the fact that Tuitt had a very solid showing Saturday, he needs to show consistency through the next three preseason games to fully jump ahead of Thomas. But, he did take a big step in the right direction.

Defensive End Depth Chart:

Starter: Cam Heyward

Co-starters: Cam Thomas and Stephon Tuitt


1. Josh Mauro

2. Ethan Hemer

3. Brian Arnfelt

4. Nick Williams

Nose-Tackle Depth Chart:

Starter: Steve McLendon


1. Cam Thomas

2. Hebron Fangupo

3. Daniel McCullers

Wide Receiver

Not much surprised with the Steelers wide receivers.

Despite the hype associated with Justin Brown and Martavis Bryant, neither lived up to it in the first game. Brown didn't make any mistakes neccesarily, but he didn't make too many plays either. Brown saw time in both the slot and on the outside during the second offensive series to the end of his time in which he made a nice catch over the middle.

Brown didn't stand out, but he didn't hurt his cause like Martavis Bryant did.

Bryant didn't see the field until the second half when Landry Jones took the field. He didn't draw attention to himself for most of the half other than when he was back returning punts. Bryant drew a pass interference flag that brought the Steelers to the redzone, but that's where his positive contributions ended.

As the Steelers drove down the field to try and win the game down 20-16, Bryant dropped Jones' pass on third down. But on 4th-and-6, Bryant made a clutch catch to keep the Steelers hopes alive.

That is until he fumbled the ball attempting to get up.

Other than Bryant struggling, the Steelers wide receivers didn't do anything spectacular Saturday. Markus Wheaton had a solid night with a 28-yard catch from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. But, he didn't have any major highlights at the Meadowlands other than his catch and an end-around. Wheaton did make Steelers fans miss former Steeler Jerricho Cotchery's blocking as Wheaton had several cases of poor blocking.

Veteran Lance Moore saw minimal time on the field. He was most noticeable on a target from Roethlisberger when Moore failed to beat press coverage as he attempted to get open toward the endzone.

To close out the depth chart, Derek Moye had a few catches on the final drive. But, even with Bryant's struggles, Moye still has a ways to go to make the roster.

Ultimately, not much changed in the receiver pecking order. But there are obviously three more preseason games left for the final depth chart to be decided.

Wide Receiver Depth Chart:

1. Antonio Brown

2. Markus Wheaton

3. Lance Moore

4. Justin Brown

5. Martavis Bryant

6. Derek Moye

Running backs

The starter has already been determined at the running back position. Le'Veon Bell proved last season he could carry the load, and the versatile Bell will do the same in 2014. The Steelers also brought LeGarrette Blount in from New England to help spell Bell and play a specific role in the offense. With the speedy Dri Archer, the Steelers have their top three cemented on the depth chart.

With at most one position open at running back, several unknown's are competing for this spot.

Tauren Poole took the reps behind the top three Saturday night, but didn't impress. Although it didn't help that the second-team offensive line struggled.

Running backs Jordan Hall and Miguel Maysonet saw time as well. And like Poole, they both didn't do anything that forces the Steelers to give them a roster spot.

In reality, the Steelers could give one of these backs a roster spot. Just don't be surprised if it ends up being a competition for a spot on the practice squad instead.

Running back Depth Chart:

1. Le'Veon Bell

2. LeGarrette Blount

3. Dri Archer

4. Tauren Poole

5. Jordan Hall

6. Miguel Maysonet