It’s that time of year again when the Steelers must decide which 53 players they will take “North” with them (Spring Training speak) as they begin their 2019 regular season journey.
That’s right, with a 4 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon deadline looming, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Co. must put their heads together and whittle down the roster dozens of times until it reaches 53.
Who do they think has the right stuff? Who do they think will have the right stuff in a year or two but has a worthy enough upside to keep around until they develop fully? Who do they hope they can stash on the practice squad without someone else coming along and making their NFL dreams come true? Who do they have to cut loose knowing that this person will likely catch on some place else and probably have a decent career?
Tough decisions, all of them, and this year, that’s a really good thing. In previous seasons, it seemed as if the Steelers 53-man roster was lacking in the 43-53 department, meaning they had to find the last 10 or so men to round out the squad, so, yeah, that’s what they did.
This year, to switch to movie producer speak, there are a lot of really tough edits that could make for some awesome deleted scenes on the extras part of a DVD.
Who will stick around as the third-string quarterback? Will it be the now veteran Joshua Dobbs or the rookie Devlin Hodges? Do they trade Dobbs? Do they, in a rare move, try and sign Hodges to the practice squad?
How about inside linebacker? Does Tyler Matakevich, and his awesome special teams prowess, stick on the roster, despite apparently not having nearly as much prowess at his designated position? Did rookie Ulysees Gilbert III do enough to win a job at inside linebacker, despite not yet possessing the special teams chops of Dirty Red? What about Robert Spillane? Great story (he’s kind of like Steelers royalty thanks to his grandfather once playing for the team). Is it great enough for him to earn a roster spot when you factor in his rather productive August?
What about Tuzar Skipper over at outside linebacker? My goodness, how can this guy, who recorded five sacks during the preseason, not make the team? I know special teams haven’t exactly been his bag up to this point in his young football career, but special teams, smecial teams, or whatever. This would be like cutting a home run hitter because he doesn’t know how to hit the cut-off man from right field. Do they go with Skipper or keep Anthony Chickillo, who, like Dirty Red, has a proven track-record as a special teams ace and, unlike Dirty Red, has a little more of a proven track-record at his defensive position? Do they keep them both? If they do, what happens with Ola Adeniyi, who is currently recovering from meniscus surgery?
If they keep all three outside linebackers, does that spill over into the inside linebackers portion of the linebackers room?
What about the receiving corps? Diontae Spencer would likely be the best man for the punt return duties in 2019, but that’s probably all he’d be adept at. Do they keep a receiver around just for that, especially if they really do think Johnny Holton, who appears to be a little more capable at his actual position, can be the special teams replacement for Darrius Heyward-Bey? What about the slot receiver duo of Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer? They’re pretty much the same player, both as receivers and as return specialists. What happens there?
And how do they shave down the offensive and defensive lines? Judging by the overall greatness of both units, it’s fairly certain that, no matter who the subs are, they’re sure to be close to super.
It’s a great thing these 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers have going. To bring it back to baseball, they say the sign of a great organization is a seemingly endless pipeline of talent coming up through the minors.
While a football team doesn’t really have a minor league, a great sign that it is poised to have a good year may be the number of really talented players that are unfortunately handed their walking papers on cut-down day.
By Saturday night, there will be a lot of talented young gents around the league, calling teams in the hopes of finding work. The fact that many of them can use Mike Tomlin as a reference bodes will for the Steelers chances in 2019.