For as much hope as the preseason has instilled for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their potential in 2023, it’s also given Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan, and company all the more to think about in terms of decisions for the final 53-man roster. Here’s a look at three players who could be on the outside looking in come Tuesday’s final roster cut deadline.
Despite his third-round draft capital, the team moving on from OL Kendrick Green ahead of the 2023 NFL season would be a surprise to no one. After spending the entirety of 2022 as a gameday inactive, the team appears to be ready to literally cut their losses and move on.
The Steelers made headlines Sunday evening after trading LG Kevin Dotson to the Los Angeles Rams. Though this does theoretically give Green a better chance to make the cut, the bigger winner still appears to be the Steelers’ 2023 seventh-round draft pick, OL Spencer Anderson. Anderson offers more versatility, having taken snaps at each of the offensive line positions besides left tackle throughout the preseason, and was highly reliable as a pass blocker in those opportunities.
Where Anderson has shown versatility on the offensive line, Green has also shown some versatility, to be fair... albeit in a way that won’t secure him a roster spot. Throughout training camp, the team worked Green into the mix as a fullback, where he did have fun, shining moments. Still, even if he can contribute at fullback, his snaps there would be limited with TE/FB/do-it-all guy Connor Heyward in the mix. Green’s struggles on the offensive line simply can’t justify another season counting toward the 53-man roster, even with the draft capital the team has invested.
CB James Pierre
This would undoubtedly be the biggest surprise cut if the Steelers were to go through with it, but James Pierre hasn’t done much to prove his case for a spot on the final 53-man roster. In fact, if it weren’t for a season-ending knee injury to rookie Cory Trice Jr., it probably wouldn’t be much of a debate at all.
Pierre played 73 total snaps with backups throughout the preseason, allowing receptions on 12 of 14 targets in his coverage for 152 yards and a touchdown. Those 152 receiving yards ranked second among any defensive player in coverage through the preseason, a frequent target of opposing quarterbacks likely thanks to those lapses, averaging just 4.9 snaps per target in his coverage (12th-fewest among all cornerbacks).
Pierre probably won’t lose his spot on the final 53-man roster given the lack of depth behind him, but if he were to, it wouldn’t be surprising based on what we’ve seen this offseason. Since being drafted, Pierre has played 711 coverage snaps, having allowed the second-highest passer rating (90.2) and the second-lowest interception rate on targets in coverage (1.7%) among Steelers cornerbacks in that span (minimum 100 coverage snaps).
Much like Pierre, if Norwood does hold on to the backup FS role, it’s likely due to a lack of comfort with the depth of playing behind him. Since drafted in 2021, Norwood has rotated through the Steelers lineup with the second team, but when asked to step up, results have left something to be desired.
Including the preseason and regular seasons dating back to 2021, Norwood has played the sixth-most snaps in coverage, leading the team with 16 missed tackles in that span. Now, entering his third season, after missing some time during training camp with a lower-body injury, some competition has emerged for the backup FS role that could see him on the outside looking in at the roster cut deadline.
Generally, Norwood wasn’t been a guy who’s struggled with health, having missed just two regular-season games in his career, having dealt with a hamstring injury in 2022 two games of the season. Even the time he missed in training camp wasn’t necessarily significant, but the timing of the injury did help pave the way for backup Kenny Robinson to see reps through training camp. That, paired with contributions from rookie Trenton Thompson, could be to his detriment come Tuesday’s roster cut deadline.
Though Robinson had his highlight moments throughout training camp, including several interceptions in the first week of camp, his most notable contributions have come on special teams throughout the preseason. That’s why things really get interesting in the discussion of Norwood’s spot on the final roster when it comes to Trenton Thompson
Thompson’s performance this preseason can’t be overstated, coming in as an undrafted free agent out of the 2023 NFL Draft class, signed by the team back on August 2. Though he’s listed as a strong safety on the team’s unofficial depth chart behind Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, and Miles Killebrew, he’s played the bulk of his snaps at defensive back as a free safety — and to that point, he’s absolutely crushed it.
In 77 snaps played this preseason, 54 of them in coverage, Thompson allowed three total catches on six targets for a total of 45 receiving yards for a 35.4 NFL passer rating in coverage. Further helping his cause was an interception against Buccaneers backup QB Kyle Trask going for nine yards in Week 1 of the preseason.