The internet is littered with Steelers sites and blogs making their projections for the team’s 53-man roster come the second week of September. I didn’t say this would be original – but I will say that it is one man’s (assuredly not-100 percent-correct) opinion of what the team’s composition should be come kickoff Sept. 12 at Fed Ex Field. What better time than the close of training camp at St. Vincent College to unveil it…
Pretty straightforward here in light of the continuing injury issues for Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers under Tomlin/Colbert have always chosen to keep three quarterbacks on the roster; never was that more evident than last season when Mike Vick hung around despite the clearly losing all confidence in his ability to start.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
I’m going to assume that Le’Veon Bell begins the season serving a suspension. If that’s so, it would seem these three are in pretty good shape to earn roster spots (Williams, of course, is a given). None of the other younger challengers has stood out enough to make a compelling case over Toussaint and Richardson.
While listed as a fullback, expect Nix to play some more tight end/H-back on offense this season – and of course, continue to be a special-teams dynamo.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Rogers has impressed enough that his roster spot, barring a major decline over the next three weeks, looks safe. The other four are cemented in. Rookie Demarcus Ayers will probably have to raise eyebrows on punt returns to have a shot at making the active roster – failing that, he should make a solid practice-squad player.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
We’re going to assume, for these purposes, that Ladarius Green is not healthy enough to start the season on the 53-man roster (I “project” him below as remaining on the physically unable to perform list, but regardless, one way or another, as we sit here 27 days before the season starts, it’s tough to envision him making enough progress that quickly). Grimble has enough potential to warrant a look as a “Ladarius, Jr.” but will someone else be brought aboard for blocking purposes?
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
From right tackle to left guard, the starting foursome might just be the best in the league. Left tackle, however, is a question mark. Whoever doesn’t start between Villanueva and Harris could begin as the “swing” backup tackle – though don’t discount the possibility that player sits on Sundays with Hubbard the emergency backup. Wallace is the main backup at the interior spots, with Hawkins having too much potential to expose to waivers on his way to the practice squad. Poor B.J. Finney is the odd man out.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
Finally, some depth – six players capable of playing a quantity and quality of snaps. Mathews is a serious upgrade as the top veteran backup, and Hargrave is good enough to push McCullers. The combined talent level should be more than enough to man the nose tackle spot – Hargrave has had the look of someone who can already help in the nickel on passing downs, too. None of the crop of very-talented-but-flawed rookie and first-year defensive linemen brought in have done anything to distinguish themselves.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
Pretty much all “chalk” here with the same five guys who finished last season (indeed, played virtually all of last season – at least after which Chickillo earned a regular proverbial “hat” on gamedays). Rookie Travis Feeney could use a year on the practice squad to bulk up and learn – his chances of making a run at the 53-man evaporated with camp injury.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
Keeping both Fort and Matakevich is a stretch, but with Ross Ventrone injured, an extra linebacker can serve in the “exclusive special-teamer” role that both Fort and Matakevich figure to excel at. So ILB becomes like Little League – “no cuts.”
Doran Grant (Safety?)
This could be an area ripe for a veteran addition via trade, the waiver wire or a street free agent, because this is perilously thin to go into a season. Burns, of course, has to be on the 53 as a first-round pick, but he hasn’t necessarily shown he’s ready to play and has been banged up. It should be noted that if the season began today, for all intents and purposes, Sean Davis would be a “CB” – if only because there aren’t any other obvious options. (We likewise could consider Doran Grant a safety — Grant has been better this camp than last, but now there’s even question what his position is?). Someone else can – and should – be on this list at this position. But unless, say, a Montell Garner or an Al-Hajj Shabazz makes a late camp run at it, it might not be someone currently on the 90-man camp roster.
Sean Davis (CB?)
Almost as cloudy as cornerback is safety, where Golden can seemingly rest easy he’s got a starting job locked up, and Thomas hasn’t been pushed much for a roster spot, either. Dangerfield was No. 53 on this fictional roster – in his fourth season associated with the NFL, he finally makes an active roster to be a special-teamer and an extra body in the secondary. Depending on the level of faith the Steelers have in Grant as a safety, though, he could be jettisoned as soon as Bell returns.
Chris Boswell (K)
Jordan Berry (P)
Greg Warren (LS)
This one’s easy – Boswell and Warren have no in-camp competition, and Berry has visibly out-performed the rookie challenger to his job, Will Monday. Warren has held the job (aside from injury) for 12 seasons, but Boswell is less than 10 months into his tenure and Berry just one season.
PUP LIST (1)
INJURED RESERVE (1)
One final parting shot: There will be at least one player (in the secondary or at tight end being the logical guesses as to where) who will be on the season-opening roster who is not on the 90-man camp roster right now (be it a street free agent or a waiver-wire or trade pick-up from another organization).
This roster is not completely conventional, and I’m sure many can (and will) nitpick it. But just one man’s quick opinion on how it should go — admittedly a man who is neither an NFL general manager nor has the aptitude to be one!
Next time we chat, it won’t be from a dorm room but will be from the South Side.