Whittling down. Separating the wheat from the chaff, or the men from the boys. Cutting through the fog.
Pick your euphemism. Whatever you choose to call it, we are approaching that time of the pre-season when roster cuts are thrust to the forefront. It's exciting and nerve-wracking, and we hang on every tweet and quote from players and coaches for a hint. So far, though, the decisions don't appear to be that difficult in Pittsburgh.
For most teams, two pre-season games is the point at which they begin to really get a handle on who is still worth considering for a spot on the regular season roster. Thirty of thirty-two teams each year will play four per-season games, with the third usually being the tune-up game for the starters, and the fourth used to settle the final battles.
The Steelers, along with the Vikings, have one more game and an extra week of practice for evaluations. But the value of that extra time is a little less apparent now than it seemed just a few weeks ago. Injuries to players like Clifton Geathers, Shawn Lemon and Jordan Zumwalt are only serving to further diminish the intrigue.
For a roster in transition, it seems a great deal of the decisions may already be pretty obvious.
Landry Jones is making this team.
With Bruce Gradkowski returning from injury, there is no way the Steelers keep just two quarterbacks. The insurance is necessary, and unless someone pops up on the wire, Jones will make the team, like it or not. Tyler Murphy hasn't thrown a single pass so far, and he's the only other quarterback left on the roster behind Ben Roethlisberger and Gradkowski.
The team will probably only keep five receivers.
Shakim Phillips and C.J. Goodwin have both been good and bad. They may both wind up spending the season on the Steelers' payroll -- but it will be on the practice squad. Sammie Coates is proving to be more than good enough to be a number-five receiver, and Darrius Heyward-Bey has looked better as a receiver than at any point in his career. With most of the question marks on the defense, a sixth receiver is a luxury the team cannot afford.
There are fourteen more weeks to decide whether to keep Mike Adams.
Adams is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list following back surgery, and probably won't come off it before the season starts. That means Alejandro Villanueva will start the year as the swing tackle, and he deserves it. Adams can stay on the PUP list through week 11, and unless Villanueva steps on his own crank between now and then, there is a good chance Adams ends the year on the Reserve/Injured list.
This could be one of the most versatile defensive lines. Ever.
The givens are Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt and Dan McCullers. Thanks to Geathers' injury, Cam Thomas is now almost a lock -- and he's actually earned it this year. All five of them could play any position on the line and do it well enough to get by, and there's one other, too: rookie L.T. Walton. He's raw, and he's inexperienced. But he is sized right between end and tackle, and played tackle in college. He has taken all his snaps so far at end, but he could do either in a pinch. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they keep six defensive linemen.
This could be the end for Terence Garvin.
Don't get me wrong, I really like him. He's great on special teams. But there are no real questions at inside linebacker except for health, and the two backups could start for a lot of teams. Outside, however, is a different story, and if the team keeps nine linebackers, I could see Anthony Chickillo taking Garvin's spot. Here's why: any one of the outside linebackers could move inside in an emergency, but Garvin is way too small to play outside. Heck, he's really too small to play inside, which is why he has been almost exclusively on special teams in his career. Chickillo is getting looks on special teams, too, which may be further marginalizing Garvin's value.
There is still a lot of uncertainty in the secondary, and the third tight-end spot is somewhat up for grabs. In the end, there will still be a surprise or two on the final roster. But what started off clear as mud several weeks ago is becoming clearer all the time.