Last call for three Steelers' rookies?
Steelers rookie safety Robert Golden might catch a break with Ryan Clark unable to play the season opener in Denver's high altitude.
Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 7:37 pm
By Mike Bires firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
Tonight, in the fourth and final preseason game, we will see little or maybe nothing from the front-line Steelers. The first-team offense and defense will play a series and call it a night. There's a chance some starters might not even play. No sense taking a chance for more injuries to strike a team already dealing with so many health issues.
But that doesn’t mean the annual preseason finale against Carolina is meaningless. Let’s allow coach Mike Tomlin to explain.
“This game presents a significant opportunity for guys to make a final statement in their charge to etch out a role for themselves within this group, or simply be a part of the group,” he said. “We looked at the recent history of the series to reiterate to some men that this is a legitimate opportunity, the last opportunity to make a strong push to put them on the right side of the ledger.
“I talked openly about the recent history of the game and what it provided to certain men. (Linebacker) Stevenson Sylvester and (running back) Jonathan Dwyer represented themselves well in the past games, and they staked their claim on their position. I want the guys to know that this is a very tangible thing.”
With that in mind, Times pro football writer Mike Bires takes a look at three rookies trying to secure spots on the final 53-man roster.
He may be an undrafted free agent who didn’t earn any postseason honors when he played at the University of Arizona but Robert Golden is playing so well at free safety that it’s going to be hard for the Steelers to cut him.
Golden, who returned an interception 47 yards in Saturday's win at Buffalo, is listed in the Steelers’ depth chart as the third-team free safety. But when the Steelers open the regular season Sept. 9 in Denver, they won’t have starting FS Ryan Clark, who has a medical condition that doesn’t allow him to play in the high altitudes of Colorado. It's almost a given that the Steelers will take four safeties with them when they play the Broncos.
Even though he never made any of the Pac-12 all-star teams, Golden was good enough to make 38 straights at Arizona including some at cornerback. And if he hasn’t already wrapped up a roster spot -- he's certainly out-played wannabe safety Damon Cromartie-Smith up to this point -- Golden may do so tonight with a strong performance against the Panthers.
The Steelers have just four tight ends on their roster: starter Heath Miller; backup Leonard; third-stringer Wes Saunders; and David Paulson, a rookie taken in the seventh round of this year’s draft.
While playing college football at Oregon, Paulson flourished in the Ducks’ wide-open offense. He caught 31 passes including six for touchdowns as a senior and 24 balls including four for TDs as a junior.
Admittedly, he’s a guy whose forte is catching the ball, and not blocking. At 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, he’s more of a finesse player. But with Saunders on suspension for the first four weeks of the season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs, there may be a roster spot for Paulson.
The Steelers could go with just Miller and Pope and have fullback Will Johnson move to tight end in three tight end sets. But if Paulson plays well tonight, he may secure a roster spot when the Steelers make their final cuts on Friday.
Judging by the way Jeremy Kapinos hangs out with kicker Shaun Suisham and long snapper Greg Warren, it seems as though he will be back as the Steelers’ punter. Kapinos’ stall in the locker room is in a corner near Suisham’s and Warren’s. Those three veterans are always together during practice periods that don’t involve special teams.
The only problem with Kapinos is that he has a mysterious back injury that’s kept him sidelined for most of the preseason.
Meanwhile, Butler, a rookie out of Georgia, dresses in another part of the room and almost seems as if he’s a loner when it comes to the specialists. But for the most part, he’s held his own. Granted, he hasn’t boomed all of his 19 punts but among NFL punters with at least 10 preseason kicks, Butler ranks seventh with a 48.2 yard average.
Last year when Kapinos took over for injured Daniel Sepulveda (knee), he averaged 45.0 yards per kick.
So it appears Butler has an adequate leg, and perhaps most importantly, he’s injury free. Maybe he can sew up the job tonight if he punts well against the Panthers.