Steelers Projected Roster: Getting to 53
By Chris Adamski | CBSSports.com
August 29, 2012 2:15 pm ET
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spent the opening statements of his Tuesday press conference to point out the importance of the fourth and final preseason game to those players who are on the roster bubble.
In a game that will lack in playing time for established players, the fringe roster spots provide the only intrigue.
The Steelers traditionally play the Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale, and Tomlin recalled performances by players such as LB Stevenon Sylvester, RB Jonathan Dwyer and others in previous Panthers games that opened coaches' eyes.
"We looked at a recent history of the series here this morning to reiterate to some men in the room that this is a legitimate opportunity, the last opportunity to make a strong push to put them on the right side of the ledger if you will," Tomlin said.
There are only a handful of roster spots still up for grabs. Here's a look at the how the roster will look come final cut-down Friday:
Stock rising: TE David Paulson. The writing is on the wall for Paulson after the Steelers cut TEs Justin Peelle and Jamie McCoy Monday -- and that writing says that Paulson will almost assuredly make the team as the No. 3 tight end. Paulson was a seventh-round pick from Oregon in April.
Stock falling: WR Derrick Williams. The best chance the former Penn State standout had at cracking the final roster was for WR Mike Wallace's holdout to extend into the season. Williams was the most "veteran" (using that term loosely) of the candidates beyond WRs Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Now there is only one spot, and the coaching staff has shown indications it prefers WR David Gilreath.
QB -- In: (2) Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich. Out: Charlie Batch, Jerrod Johnson. Sorry, Charlie. Uncertainty with injury issues at running back, linebacker and along the offensive line make it difficult for the Steelers to enjoy the luxury of a third quarterback. Batch grew up just a couple miles down the river from where the Steelers practice facility now sits, and he still lives in the area. Active in community causes (and at 37 years old), he likely isn't going anywhere else. The Steelers take advantage of that fact and release him now -- knowing they can call him on a moment's notice if something happens to Roethlisberger or Leftwich.
RB -- In: (6) Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey, Baron Batch, Will Johnson (FB). Out: DuJuan Harris. Six running backs sounds like a lot -- but in this case, it has a feel as if it's not even enough. Mendenhall is still recovering from a torn ACL and his status for the beginning of the season is doubtful. Redman seemingly has a new injury every week (currently, his ankle will keep him out of Thursday's preseason finale), and the other four backs have a grand total of 25 career carries.
WR -- In: (5) Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, David Gilreath. Out: Derrick Williams, Marquis Maze, Tyler Beiler, Toney Clemons. With Wallace at last with the team, a unit that was projected to be a strength finally is one. After the Big Four, the only question is who is the No. 5. Gilreath wins by default.
TE -- In: (3) Heath Miller, Leonard Pope, David Paulson. Suspended for the first four games: Weslye Saunders. Not much to consider here. Paulson's spot seems safe -- for at least three weeks. After that, all bets are off. The only possible scenario Paulson is cut is if the Steelers decide Will Johnson can line up at tight end on occasion. Still, that leaves the team too thin at the position.
OL -- In: (9) Maurkice Pouncey, Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Max Starks, Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, Trai Essex. Out: Chris Scott, Kelvin Beachum, John Malecki, Ryan Lee. DeCastro might end up on IR before final cuts are made, pending what is discovered during Wednesday surgery. OL coach Sean Kugler told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that DeCastro would not go on season-ending IR for the knee injury sustained in Saturday's preseason game in Buffalo. If that's so, the Steelers might want to protect themselves by hoarding more linemen. Almost assuredly, DeCastro's injury helped the cause of Essex, a versatile veteran who is a good insurance policy at any spot along the line.
DL -- In: (6) Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Casey Hampton, Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, Alameda Ta'amu. Out: Corbin Bryant, Al Woods, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Jake Stoller. Hampton has drawn rave reviews for his work in practice since coming off the PUP list 12 days ago. Hampton is coming off a torn ACL and also has a left elbow injury. When healthy, the Steelers have a very formidable group of defensive linemen. They like to rotate bodies in and out, so six is the minimum needed on the roster. A tough decision will need to be made if the team wants to carry a seventh.
LB -- In: (9) LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Larry Foote, Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester, Chris Carter, Sean Spence, Adrian Robinson. Out: Brandon Johnson, Brandon Hicks, Marshall McFadden. Extra bodies are needed here because of the uncertainty surrounding the readiness of Harrison and Worilds. Both were just taken off the PUP list Tuesday, and each will only have a week of practice before the season opens after missing virtually all of training camp. The top eight are all but set -- and Robinson and Johnson have both shown they're worthy. The Steelers likely will go for the younger, higher-ceiling option. But veteran Johnson is considered a special teams stalwart, helping his cause.
DB -- In: (10) Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Ryan Mundy, Curtis Brown, Will Allen, Damon Cromartie-Smith, Robert Golden. Out: Terrence Frederick, Josh Victorian. Golden was impressive on the practice field in Latrobe and also, to an extent, in games. The top six on this list are locks. Allen, a veteran and special teams standout, could be vulnerable.
Special teams -- In: (3) Shaun Suisham (K), Jeremy Kapinos (P), Greg Warren (LS). Out: Drew Butler (P). The combination of Kapinos' injury issues and Butler's stellar punting in preseason games makes the punting job an interesting battle. The smart money is still on the incumbent, but Butler would not be a huge surprise.