After the Steelers cut their roster down to 53 players and made their run at their recent cuts for practice-squad signings, the team had to feel pretty good about their ability to keep rookie Dan McCullers on the active roster while storing Nick Williams and Josh Mauro on the practice squad.
Even if the decision was made to bring back Brett Keisel after seeing Stephon Tuitt, the team's second-round draft pick, wasn't going to be able to hold down a starting defensive end position, the team had to feel very good about the future of its defensive line.
Williams, an athletic monster with the personal endorsement of defensive line coach John Mitchell, had a year in the system already. Mauro, a technically supreme defensive end who only lacked elite-level athleticism, both appeared to be projects the team could mold for the future, much like past Steelers teams did in building the deepest defensive line in the NFL.
Too bad. Another two weeks and one of them might have gotten called up.
The Steelers will reportedly place Keisel on season/career-ending injured reserve soon following the team's 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Keisel apparently suffered a torn triceps and it would appear his time in Pittsburgh is over.
But the cupboard, once rife with developmental talent, is now bare, except for undrafted rookie Ethan Hemer - the also-ran of the Mauro-Williams-Hemer triumvirate of young stock. Hemer has been cut from the team's practice squad previously and, with now faces the possibility of an outside signing competing with his ascension to the roster.
Well, sort of an outside signing. Ex-Steelers roster member and practice-squad member Brian Arnfelt is still a free agent. A source told Behind The Steel Curtain after he was released that Arnfelt played much of training camp injured, but wasn't released with an injury settlement. He hasn't signed elsewhere, and that was only a few months removed from a late-season call-up during his rookie year.
However it pans out, a defensive end rotation of Cameron Heyward, Cam Thomas and Tuitt won't get the job done against the run-heavy Bengals - against whom the Steelers have two games of their last four - and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Not that the Steelers have much choice. They're going to have to win three of their last four games if they want to have even a semblance of a shot to win the AFC North and one of them will have to be against the Bengals.