Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If It Ain't Steel's 2013 Steelers Roster Projection


It's time for our look at the projected Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 roster, time to project who'll maintain the standard we have come to expect. Mind you, with the surgeries in the offseason, injuries in Training Camp and in the preseason games, it hasn't been easy.

We've had to figure out ways to free up roster spots because the list of injured players makes it so that the roster that we'll see week one won't be the roster we'll see after the bye, and then week eight. I've thought of the Steelers possibly (initially) keeping just four running backs, five wide receivers or maybe just three tight ends as ways to complete a 53-man roster. Per the league, teams must reduce rosters to 75 players on the Active List prior to 4:00 p.m. EST on the 27th releasing nearly 500 players to waiver wires (which the Steelers have done) and to 53 by 6pm EST on the 31st releasing over 700 players across the NFL.

(ASIDE: Players who aren't claimed off of waivers will then be allowed to sign to a team's eight-man practice squad. A player is eligible for the PS if they haven't accrued a season or have not been on the active roster gameday roster for more than nine regular season games. The practice squad limit is three years.)

The Steelers find themselves with two injured tight ends, one running back, and two linebackers. How does that affect how many of each are initially kept on the roster? We expect the Steelers to keep nine linebackers, that one is pretty easy. But, the RB and TE situation may dictate how many wide receivers are kept. Will they only keep with a sixth being sent to the practice squad?

OFFENSE (25 players):

Quarterbacks:
Ben Roethlisberger- 7 for #7? Not this season. But, things will be better in year two of the Todd Haley era; Bruce Gradkowski- New backup in town, he needs to stop dictating his passes; Landry Jones- from Uncle Charlie's walker and hearing aid to Jones' baby bottle.

Running Backs:
Le'Veon Bell- his healing Lisfranc foot will keep him out until after the bye in week four, but the rookie has the ability to be the next signature runner in the Steel City; Isaac Redman- though he's had only two carries this preseason, the coaches know he runs with authority whenever he has the ball in his hands; Jonathan Dwyer*- going out on a shaky limb here, but we think he'll acquit himself against the Carolina Panthers; LaRod Stephens-Howling*- he has the electricity to be the lightning to the thunder of the other RBs; Will Johnson at fullback- he has the blocking ability to excel at the position and will be used in the passing game and in more of an H-Back role this season .

Wide Receivers:
Antonio Brown- The number one guy now. He has the wheels and the route-running ability. Plus, he's like the energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going...; Emmanuel Sanders- though he's likely gone next season, he's still the best all-around WR on the team; Jerricho Cotchery- over half of his NFL touchdowns have come in the redzone and his experience and maturity will help the younger guys; Markus Wheaton- the real MW? MW 2.0? Regardless, he's got Mitts and Wheels Justin Brown- not very fast, but the rookie is a big target with sure hands; Reggie Dunn- special teams ability and looks to have sure hands if the Steelers want to go Zero Formation. It was either him or Derek Moye, neither of whom will clear waivers. Which might open the door for JD Woods to come back to the PS.

Tight Ends:
Heath Miller- incredibly underrated TE who had career numbers in new offense and should pick up where he left off; David Paulson- better at receiving than at blocking (in fact, he is a bad blocker), but he's a big red zone target; David Johnson- but only until Matt Spaeth comes back after his eight-game IR designation which we believe the Steelers will assign him..

Offensive Line:
Mike Adams- the blindside - nothing more needs to be said - step up, young man; Ramon Foster- he could be Pro Bowl caliber if he wants to be; Maurkice Pouncey- the anchor; David DeCastro- is solid at right guard, especially in the run; Marcus Gilbert- so far, the weak link of an inconsistent (at best) line; Kelvin Beachum- has the ability to play nearly every position on the line and should be the starter at right tackle over Gilbert - C/G/T/TE - the new "Slash?"; John Malecki- coming along slowly but could be much more regular in the rotation by the end of the season if his current learning curve continues; Joe Long- Guy Whimper proved he can't play guard or tackle or any semblance of an NFL player, so it's either Long or Chris Hubbard, with Mike Golic, jr. being moved to the PS.

DEFENSE (25 players):

Defensive Line:
Evander Hood- Ziggy showed up much better in the dress rehearsal, but he has to take control of the position or he'll have signed his ticket out of time; Steve McLendon- Will have fans forgetting Big Snack by the end of the year; Brett Keisel- the Pro Bowler had another solid season last year, but will this one be his final; Cam Heyward- a real mean streak...just need to see it more often; Al Woods- Woods is veteran player who can play either side if needed and at nose tackle; Alameda Ta'amu- was supposed to be the future until Training Camp showed that the future isn't now - Hebron Fangupo may actually have surpassed him.

Linebackers:
Lamarr Woodley- I expect bigger things this year from Woodley, he stepped up in preseason and now needs to be the leader of the linebackers; Larry Foote- the Buck stops here; Lawrence Timmons- finally being left in his natural Mack position last season, he should have been a Pro Bowler; Jason Worilds- make or break season for Worilds who is being nipped at the heels by...; Jarvis Jones- the black cat will be starting by season's end; Marshall McFadden- will backup the Buck and Mack positions; Vince Williams- The Destroyer, 'nuff said; Alan Baxter- the first step of Mr. Baxter is so fast that QBs barely have time to let out a scream before he can get there; Chris Carter- Yeah, but he might relinquish his spot to Brian Rolle or to...; Sean Spence- once he comes off of PUP. Spence had the hybrid quickness, speed and ability to stay with TEs - will he still have it?.

Defensive Backs:
Ike Taylor- Face me, Ike!; Cortez Allen- has earned a starting spot and has the coverage ability and ballhawking ability that Keenan Lewis didn't have (though we think they should have tried to keep him and use Tez in the nickel instead of bringing back...; William Gay- nickel specialist who ain't worth a dime otherwise; Curtis Brown- will see the field more this year between special teams and Dime and select nickel packages; Josh Victorian- Young and still wet behind the ears, but he has a great attitude and aptitude which should start to show on the field; Terry Hawthorne- the rookie is fast and will mainly show that speed on special teams initially; Ryan Clark- led the Steelers in knockout tackles last year as well as quotable quotes; Troy Polamalu- I hear this guy's good; Robert Golden- has real potential, flashes big-play ability at times; Shamarko Thomas- The Shark!

Special Teams (3 players):
Shaun Suisham (K)- SUSHI! (I still wanna see ID)Drew Butler(P)- he beat out Brian Moorman mainly because of his youth; Greg Warren(LS)- he wears no. 60 and you'd be surprised at how many down-field plays he actually makes.

Practice Squad:
LB Kion Wilson- These are the Pittsburgh Steelers, aka "Linebacker, Inc", so he benefits by learning here.
G Mike Golic, jr.- A guard who is very smart but needs to build his strength.
WR Derek Moye or JD Woods- Maybe.
DE Brian Arnfelt- Had too many other DEs in front of him, but worth watching.
CB Isaiah Green- Showed himself well in Training Camp, is a good cover guy and is fast.
RB Alvester Alexander- Good runner who was picked up halfway through TC.
G Chris Hubbard- He should circle back around to the PS if he clears waivers.
NT Hebron Fangupo- If he doesn't actually make the 53.

*Despite their abilities, either LSH or Dwyer may be expendable once players come off the PUP and IR lists. Room will need to be made and it likely would come from one of these two if the roster falls the way we have projected here.

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TIDBITS: DeMarcus Van Dyke and Justin Cheadle have reverted back to the Steelers IR after clearing waivers.

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Below is the blog written post-game and that chronicled the roster cuts. Blogger.com was giving us serious problems, so it wasn't able to be posted. So, here it is:

"Steelers Lose To Chiefs, Trim Roster To 75"
It wasn't good enough. We've got a lot of work to do." - Antonio Brown after the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs 

The Pittsburgh Steelers played light years better than they had in the previous two exhibition games, but, like the Steelers wide receiver said, they still have work to do. 

Certain parts of the Steelers offense showed definite improvement. After previously doing their best to establish the run, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aired it out to positive results. The running game had mixed results with Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones being the two main runners. The offensive line wasn't nearly the revolving door it was last Monday. And the first-team defense spent about 25 minutes knocking around Alex Smith.

Not exactly the 2008 Steelers, but it is progression. 

Big Ben, the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, completed 13-19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown (almost two), with no interceptions for a 113 passer rating. Big Ben connected with Brown for a 49-yard gain on their first passing play of the evening. He also barely missed connecting with Emmanuel Sanders on a touchdown pass, but Manny wasn't able to pull it in.

The big-play ability wasn't left to just the first team, though. We also saw Markus Wheaton have a long reception of 34 yards, Sanders for 24 yards and Jerricho Cotchery for 21 yards. Tight end Michael Palmer also had one for 25 yards.

Dwyer played well overall as he actually blocked well when in the game, carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and caught Big Ben's lone touchdown pass. Jones, without any chance to even practice, was thrown into the mix rushing for 29 yards on eight carries and returning two kickoffs for 51 yards.

The offensive line continued to have its issues, as was evident by the five sacks allowed, but acquitted themselves better overall. Steelers Maurkice Pouncey believes they can be even better still.

"This is probably the best I’ve ever felt," Pouncey said of his confidence in the line. Knowing that they slipped up in pass protection, Pouncey further said, "It’s small things that we can fix so easily, man, and that’s what we’ve been doing in practice, working our butts off to get everything squared away."

Time is ticking, Pouncey.

The defense played like they are ready for prime time, sacking the quarterback and stonewalling on 4th-and-inches. Cortez Allen hit and stymied his assignments and showed why the coaching staff put their faith in him by not retaining Keenan Lewis. Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu played like they were completely healthy, and Steve McLendon, Al Woods, Ziggy Hood, Jarvis Jones, who received a scare with a bruised sternum after his interception, and Alan Baxter, who had two sacks, were beautifully disruptive. 

The biggest problems were once again the same thing - penalties and special teams. 

Of the nine penalties, one of which proved costly, we'll simply quote HC Mike Tomlin: "Some of those calls were suspect."

As for the other, somewhere Danny Smith is screaming as he watches tape of his not-so-special teams. The squad endured two more gaffes in a sloppy exhibition season. In addition to a 109-yard return, Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham saw his 52-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter get swatted to the turf. 

Being completely new, Smith has yet to find the right combination of players in order to get them to practice together and gel as a unit. But, part of that dilemma may have been alleviated approximately 24 hours after the game. 

Sunday evening, the Steelers announced the first list of men who wouldn't make the roster. Though one or two of them could feasibly circle back around to the practice squad. The list is as follows:

Tackle D’Anthony Batiste, running back Baron Batch, tackle Mike Farrell, wide receiver David Gilreath, wide receiver Tyler Shaw, cornerback Ryan Steed, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, tight end Peter Tuitupou, quarterback John Parker Wilson, receiver J.D. Woods, and running back Jeremy Wright.

The only surprises were Sylvester, who many considered still having the possibility of making the team as the ninth linebacker, and Woods who had reportedly played well in Training Camp and had two circus catches when he was in the game against the Giants. 

Also, injured inebacker Sean Spence was placed on the reserve PUP list. He’ll be eligible to return to practice after week six and through week 11. He then has another week to actually be placed on the roster. 

The Steelers also placed guard Justin Cheadle and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke on the waived/injured list. If they go unclaimed by another team, they’ll revert to the injured reserve list. Rookie defensive end Nick Williams has been placed on the injured reserve list.

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According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Steelers reportedly think Jarvis Jones suffered a bruised sternum or chest when he was tackled from behind following an interception Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Jones was taken to an area hospital via an ambulance and strapped to a gurney  following the game. He was kept for observation, but was released Sunday after their battery of tests came up negative. 

Florio speculates Jones wouldn't be "accepting the diagnosis as conclusive," which is his right per the collective bargaining agreement. Why he speculates this is anyone's guess. 

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I am not surprised Mike Golic, jr. didn't get cut. They need OLine bodies, so he has another chance to make an impression. But, I also think Chris Hubbard has a chance to battle Golic, jr. for a PS spot. 

We told you that Hebron Fangupo had the edge on Alameda Ta'amu going into the third game. While Fangupo was playing in the fiurth quarter, Ta'amu was standing with coaches on the sidelines. This suggests Ta'amu may soon say aloha.