A First Cut at the Final Roster

Who’s making the cut? Who’s on the bubble? Who’s pushing for a roster spot that wasn’t on our radar a month ago?

QB

Key Departures: Byron Leftwich (TB)
Competition to Watch: Dixon v. Batch for the #2 spot

Locks: 1. Ben Roethlisberger, 2. Charlie Batch, 3. Dennis Dixon
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: Mike Reilly

The two spot still belongs to Batch, but Dixon is looking more comfortable. If Dixon can’t win the two outright, he is at least progressing well. Dixon will get a LOT of work this preseason, and needs better timing on deep routes and outs.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Mike Reilly. Reilly could fit as the #3 next year.

RBs

Key Departures: Gary Russell.
Competition to Watch: Redman vs. Davis vs. Summers for the 4 and 5 spot.

Locks: 4. Willie Parker, 5. Rashard Mendenhall, 6. Mewelde Moore
On the bubble: 7. Carey Davis, 8. Isaac Redman, Frank Summers
Cuts: Stefan Logan, Justin Vincent

While some fret over Mendenhall not meeting expectations after one exhib game, those tend to be the same folks who are ready to give Redman a roster spot after beating up on the Cardinals scrubs after that same one exhib. Two things: Mendenhall will be fighting for time against an again-healthy Parker, and that story may play out slowly over the course of the season, with Mendenhall’s proportionate workload increasing gradually.

But Redman has certainly opened some eyes at camp, and has gotten quality time against the Steeler D first team. Carey Davis, who can grind out two tough yards when the team needs three, is by all expert accounts a roster lock, presumably because no rookie could conceivably do as well on teams. Summers, only a month ago heralded as the next next-Bettis, seems to be caught on the outside looking in. Redman, Davis, and Summers all need to show that they can lead block, get the short yardage, and contribute on teams. If Summers doesn’t make the cut, he will likely be a PS priority.

The Arians-era schizophrenia over the role of the FB does confuse the issue as well. If RBs 4 and 5 are supposed to have some FB ability, what about the TE3, presumably Sean McHugh or David Johnson? How much traditional FB cattle-clearing will we actually see? Are the hybrid backs mostly going to be needed to catch dumpoff passes and get the short, brutal yardage?

Possible Practice Squad Material: Frank Summers.

WR

Key Departures: Nate Washington.
Key Additions: Shaun McDonald.
Competition to Watch: Wallace vs. MacDonald for the WR4 spot.

Locks: 9. Hines Ward, 10. Santonio Holmes, 11. Limas Sweed, 12. Mike Wallace (KR) , 13. Shaun MacDonald
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: Dallas Baker, Martin Nance, Steven Black, Brandon Williams, Tyler Grisham.

Sweed looked an awful lot like Plaxico, sans lead to the thigh, on the underthrow by Batch. Still battling inconsisteny, Sweed could really turn it on in weeks to come and become much more than Nate Washington ever was for us. His second year needs to be a big step up. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace isn’t showing many first year yips, and is just begging to be used as a kick returner, trick play specialist, and fourth wideout in the spread. This guy can kill. Shaun MacDonald looked like a guy who could play a niche role, the Ced Wilson sort of thing, but Wallace is pushing him hard. Wallace and Sweed still have work to do, but wow. Just wow.

Baker’s no longer PS-eligible. Nance won’t make it.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Steven Black, if they want size; Tyler Grisham, if they want moxie and sharp routes.

TE

Locks: 14. Heath Miller, 15. Matt Spaeth
On the bubble: 16. Sean McHugh, David Johnson
Cuts: Sherrod Dezmond

Miller and Miller Lite get the lion’s share of the action in the Arians playbook, including the fabulous 2-TE sets. McHUgh and Johnson have to show they can block effectively (questionable), and possibly contribute as hybrid TE/FB lead blockers for the RBs.

Possible Practice Squad Material: David Johnson.

LT

Key Departures: Marvel Smith.

Locks: 17. Max Starks
On the bubble: 18. Tony Hills, Jason Capizzi

Hills and Capizzi are both listed on the Steelers site as LTs (and only Colon is listed as a RT), but both are trying to stick as swing tackles. Both have shown some improvement, but neither looks particularly ready to guard the blind side against top talent, and both might be better situated at RT. LT depth is a concern, and Starks ain’t exactly Robinson Crusoe, a guy who can make it on an island.

When Stapleton returns, Essex becomes the top LT backup as well as an OG swingman.

Neither Hills nor Capizzi has PS eligibility remaining.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

LG

Locks: 19. Chris Kemoeatu
On the bubble: 20. Ramon Foster
Cuts: Jeremy Parquet

Foster is actually listed rather generically as “OT” on the official site, but he’s been the talk of the OL thus far. He’s making a strong push to make the roster, and may have a better shot at this point than Urbik, who needs to step up. Foster can likely backup either OG spot and RT. A good sized player with a streak of mean.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

C

Locks: 21. Justin Hartwig
On the bubble: 22. Doug Legursky, A.Q. Shipley
Cuts: None.

Legursky and Shipley have both looked pretty decent thus far. Stapleton can also fill in at C in a pinch.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Doug Legursky, A.Q. Shipley.

RG

Key Departures: Kendall Simmons.

Locks: 23. Trai Essex
On the bubble: 24. Darnell Stapleton, Kraig Urbik
Cuts: None.

Essex hasn’t exactly dominated as a RG, so he will likely be forever consigned to backing up all positions save C. Stapleton, who switched from C to RG last year, looks like a guy who has position flexibility without dominating anywhere. Call it a gut feeling, but I think the emergence of Foster, coupled with strong play from Legursky, could actually put Stapleton on the bubble. But in the end, he’ll win a spot.

Crazy prediction of the week: The starting OL will be Starks, Kemo, Hartwig, Stapleton, and Colon to begin the season, but somewhere along the line Foster will displace Stapleton.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Kraig Urbik.

RT

Locks: 25. Willie Colon
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: None.

Essex, Hills, and Foster (if he makes it) will provide depth at RT as well.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

Offense: 25 players.

NT

Locks: 26. Casey Hampton, 27. Chris Hoke
On the bubble: 28. Scott Paxson
Cuts: Steve McLendon

Last year, the Steelers carried their NT depth 3-deep, with Scott Paxson in as well. Age is a concern with Hampton and Hoke, but I don’t see us going 3-deep here this year.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

LDE

Locks: 29. Aaron Smith
On the bubble: 30. Travis Kirschke, Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris
Cuts: None.

Travis Kirschke has been a solid role player, but he’s 35, has been troubled with back issues, and has a higher cap number. Ziggy Hood’s gotten reps at LDE, but Harris looks like the better fit, and has had a surprisingly good showing in exhib. Still hard to believe the rook will unseat the moldy oldies, though.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Sonny Harris.

RDE

Locks: 31. Brett Keisel, 32. Ziggy Hood
On the bubble: 33. Nick Eason

Ziggy will get some situation playing time, and Eason may be kept for vet depth. Neither Eason nor Kirschke fill one’s heart with joy, but the rookies will have a learning curve until they can fill in for any stretch.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

LOLB

Locks: 34. LaMarr Woodley
On the bubble: 35. Arnold Harrison, Bruce Davis, Patrick Bailey
Cuts: None.

Davis is starting to show some signs of life, but is it too little too late? Arnold Harrison is a capable backup, and carrying 3-deep may not be feasible. Bailey is a special teams guy who needs to show much more than he has to be worth anything as a depth guy.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

LILB

Locks: 36. James Farrior, 37. Keyaron Fox
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: Andy Schantz, Tom Korte.

Fox has shown ability on STs, but could turn out to be a decent LB in his own right. SChantz and Korte are generic ILBs with zero shot of making this team. Camp fodder.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

RILB

Key Defection: Larry Foote.

Locks: 38. Lawrence Timmons
On the bubble: 39. Donovan Woods
Cuts: None.

Woods may be the best bet for additional depth behind Timmons. He was the starting QB at Oklahoma St. before transitioning to safety, and while his biggest contribution has come on STs, he could benefit from sticking to a position and learning another year under Coach Butler. Woods has been around the ball a lot and has good awareness.

Note: The Ravens picked up UDFA ILB Dannell Ellerbe out of Georgia. I had Ellerbe rated pretty highly, but character concerns apparently dropped him. He’s been pushing Tavares Gooden hard for the LB spot vacated by Bart Scott. If the Ravens were to try sneaking Ellerbe onto the PS, I would think very seriously about putting Woods on our PS and signing Ellerbe to the 53-man roster to back up Timmons.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

ROLB

Locks: 40. James Harrison, 41. Andre Frazier
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: None.

Dre Frazier looks to be the best of the OLB depth right now.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

LCB

Locks: 42. Ike Taylor
On the bubble: 43. Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison
Cuts: Roy Lewis

Lewis has had a rookie learning curve, and will need some time in this system. I still think he may be better suited to a switch to FS, where we are very thin. Madison is a teams guy who can back up corner, but won’t ever be the quality guy McFadden was or Gay was when they were in the role. Roy Lewis was another guy I thought might get some action at FS, but it looks like he’s considered strictly CB, and he may have hit his ceiling. On the upside, despite being on the 53-man for a few weeks last year, Roy Lewis has PS eligibility.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Roy Lewis.

RCB

Key Departures: Bryant McFadden.
Key Additions: Keiwan Ratliff.

Locks: 44. William Gay, 45. Deshea Townshend, 46. Joe Burnett (PR)
On the bubble: None.
Cuts: Keiwan Ratliff.

The guy from CBS loves Ratliff and says he’s a lock. I don’t see it. Deshea is still a solid vet depth and role guy, and Burnett is a lock IMO based on big upside as a PR and some nice heady play at CB. In fact, Tomlin’s referred to Burnett (jokingly) as Deshea. He’s in.

Possible Practice Squad Material: None.

FS

Key Departures: Anthony Smith.

Lock: 47. Ryan Clark
On the bubble: 48. Ryan Mundy
Cuts: Derrick Richardson.

Mundy is a little disappointing so far, and if either S starter gets dinged we are in huge trouble. I still don’t buy that Townshend will switch to S, though. If that happens by some chance, Mundy is still PS-eligible.

Possible Practice Squad Material: Ryan Mundy.

SS

Locks: 49. Troy Polamalu
On the bubble: 50. Tyrone Carter
Cuts: None.

Carter is old and slow, but we need vet depth. Ugh.

Defense: 25players.

PK

51. Jeff Reed

Reed is in a contract year.

Thanks for Coming to Camp: Piotr Czech.

P

52. Daniel Sepulveda

The punting game should see an immediate improvement over the nightmare of Berger and Ernster.
Thanks for Coming to Camp: Dirk Johnson

LS

53. Greg Warren

Special Teams: 3 players.

So that wraps it up, check back in a few weeks and we’ll see how this matches up to reality.

4 comments for “A First Cut at the Final Roster

  1. Mike Thomas
    August 21, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Keiwan is a great quality pick up for Pitts. I’m an Indy fan and believe me, you guys have a good backup there. He stepped in last year for us and played great. Not good. Great. If I can recall, he had a monster of a game against Pitts right? 7 tackles and a key pick. I hope you do cut him so he can come back where he is loved…

  2. Rick Baker
    August 23, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I agree with Mike. I was at that Colts game last year.

    I know it’s hard to move guys when teams just wait for them to be cut, but I think the Steelers have enough talent, especially on D, to move some depth for a solid backup Tackle to legitimately push Colon and Starks. Maybe Deshea, Urbik, and Davis/Woods?

  3. August 25, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    If Ratliff makes the squad then great, the Steelers are pretty young in the backfield (besides Townsend) and could use the vet depth.

    I don’t know about trading for a backup OT though. If a team has a good one, they’re more than likely to hang on to that commodity.

  4. steelfan
    September 2, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Are you sure Dallas Baker is not PS eligible? If so, that leaves Grisham for the PS, as Williams and Baker cannot go to the PS, assuming McDonald makes the 53. I thought Baker had one more year of PS eligibility?

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