After watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first preseason game and after hearing reports from training camp, only one conclusion can be made: A lot of good players are going to be cut.
The Steelers Will Have Some Tough Decisions Before the Regular Season
Let’s start with the offense right with the most important position on the team: the quarterback. The Steelers have four quarterbacks in camp: Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Dobbs, Mason Rudolph, and Devlin Hodges. Roethlisberger obviously isn’t getting cut, but all of the three other signal callers have shown flashes in camp. Reportedly, Dobbs has had the worst camp out of the three; but he also had a nice first preseason game. While all three have had their moments in camp and the first game, all three are also competing for the same roster spot. All three are definitely capable of being the backup quarterback, all of them are capable of being the third string quarterback, but one of them ultimately won’t make the team.
As far as running backs go, James Conner is a lock and Jaylen Samuels is as close to a lock as you can get to making the roster. It’s hard to see the team keeping more than three running backs on the roster, and there are a couple of guys that could fill that spot. Of course there are two bruisers that got game action and played decent games in Benny Snell and Trey Edmunds, but Malik Williams has also had a nice camp and could push for that third back position as the preseason.
Roosevelt Nix is the only player that will fill this spot for the foreseeable future, so this is one of the few easy decisions the coaching staff has.
As far as tight ends go, the three that will make the team will most likely be Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, and Zach Gentry. The only decision that has to be made here is whether Gentry or Grimble are the number two guy.
The wide receivers. WOW are there some good receivers in this group. The Steelers typically keep six receivers, and there are virtually four locks for the roster barring something dramatic. Virtual locks are: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson. That means guys like Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers, Diontae Spencer, Johnny Holton, and Tevin Jones are all competing for those last two spots.
Personally, I think that there’s only one spot open due to Diontae Spencer’s speed. He has the potential to be a deep threat for the Pittsburgh offense as he has Tyreek Hill-like speed and could also be an asset in the return game. But, I’m not a coach or anywhere close to the decision-making process. Even if these guys don’t make the Steelers, it isn’t unrealistic to suggest that they make other wide receiver-needy teams (looking at you, Dave Gettleman). This wide receiver room is THAT deep.
I don’t think this should be a tough decision for the team. There are some guys that can be tough to cut such as Derwin Gray, Garrett Brumfeld, or Fred Johnson. Ultimately there should be enough roster spots along the offensive line to keep enough players for the decision to be relatively painless.
The decision of who to keep on the team as a rotational guy is being made difficult by Isaiah Buggs. The 2019 sixth round pick is being disruptive in camp and was virtually unblockable against Tampa Bay in the first preseason game. Tyson Alualu is making the team barring a complete meltdown, so do they keep Buggs, Daniel McCullers, or both?
Right now there are three locks based on experience/draft position: Vince Williams, Mark Barron, and Devin Bush. Everyone saw what Devin Bush did last Friday night so I’ll spare my praises. The rest of the backers will be determined based on how they perform on special teams and their limited action in games. Tyler Matakevich has shown his special teams prowess in the past, and fifth round pick Ulysses Gilbert III has shown the speed that can be beneficial to a special teams unit. If Robert Spillane or Tegray Scales can build off of their start to camp and their brief preseason action; they could justify the team keeping six linebackers or even push one of Matakevich or Gilbert III for a roster spot.
Bud Dupree and TJ Watt are obviously not getting cut, and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi has had an extremely disruptive camp and beginning to preseason. The incumbent to that fourth spot is Anthony Chickillo, but he is anything but cemented onto the roster. While he hasn’t done anything to lose the spot, Tuzar Skipper has also played very well to start camp. Not to mention that Sutton Smith has the versatility to make the team as the team has also tried him at fullback. Could the team keep four outside ‘backers and have to make a tough decision for this position, or keep five at this position and make a tough decision at another position? Only time will tell.
The starters coming back in Joe Haden and Mike Hilton won’t be cut and neither will free agent acquisition Steven Nelson. Who will fill the last two or three spots? Cam Sutton and Justin Layne? Artie Burns and Brian Allen? Or will newcomers like Trevon Mathis or Jermaine Ponder make the team? Ultimately this will be decided by if the team keeps five or six corners, and if any of these guys can make splash plays. Definitely not the only murky secondary group on the team, though.
Outside of the starters, things get murky. Kameron Kelly has excelled in camp, the team seems to have a plan for Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield is the elder statesman, and PJ Locke III is high-flying and hard-hitting. There’s no way all of these guys make the team and there is only one thing that can be said for certain: Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis are 1,000% the starters.
Both kickers in camp have had strong performances, but Boswell definitely has the benefit of the doubt considering he’s been on the team for a couple of years, and he’s in the middle of a long-term deal.
Ian Berryman has shown some serious leg in camp, but Jordan Berry continues to shine in two other, more important categories: hangtime and directional punting. Berry gets the nod in a painless decision.
Kameron Kanaday has no competition.
As the rest of the preseason unfolds we will see who auditions well and it will be interesting to see who makes the cut. Here are my predictions:
Quarterback(3)- Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges
Running Back(3)- James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr.
Fullback(1)- Roosevelt Nix
Tight End(3)- Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
Wide Receiver(6)- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Diontae Spencer, Johnny Holton
Offensive Line(9)- Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins, BJ Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner
Offensive Total: 25
Defensive Line(6)- Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs
Inside Linebacker(5)- Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Devin Bush, Tyler Matakevich, Ulysses Gilbert III
Outside Linebacker(4)- TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Anthony Chickillo
Cornerback(6)- Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Justin Layne, Artie Burns, Cam Sutton
Safety(4)- Terrell Edmunds, Sean Davis, Kameron Kelly, Marcus Allen
Defensive Total: 25
Kicker(1)- Chris Boswell
Punter(1)- Jordan Berry
Long Snapper(1)- Kameron Kanaday
Special Teams Total: 3
Roster Total: 53