Steelers Offensive Players Looking To Make The Final Cut
By Marc Jenkins
The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to rest many of their starters in their final glorified scrimmage versus the Carolina Panthers on August 29. The two major goals: 1) keep their starters injury free and ready for week one of the regular and 2) get a final look and figure out which players are worthy of making their 53-man final roster cut.
The Steelers enter their contest at Bank of America Stadium winless so far this preseason and would love to earn at least one victory in order to enter the regular season on a positive note. Although winning this battle versus the Panthers isn’t the most important thing coach Mike Tomlin is focused on this week, it would still be a promising sign following what has been a shaky preseason. More importantly, Tomlin figures to make some decisions about the back end of his roster based on what he sees in Carolina.
Pittsburgh will look to their rookie QB Landry Jones to take snaps behind center for most of this contest in order to figure out if he truly has what it takes to be named Ben Roethlisberger’s understudy for the regular season. Bruce Gradkowski is listed as the Steelers’ backup at the position on the depth chart, however, the feeling within the organization is that they would like their fourth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma to earn the spot. Thus far, Jones has passed for 159 yards and a touchdown while just completing 45.2 percent of his attempts in two preseason contests.
One position where the Steelers will definitely have to do a bit of roster trimming is at running back position, where they are six players likely vying for 3-4 spots. One of those players include rookie RB Le’Veon Bell, who was the favorite to earn the starting nod entering the 2013 campaign. However, that decision is now up in the air based on his inability to remain healthy this preseason along with his ineffectiveness during his brief on-field action in the Steelers’ second preseason game against the Washington Redskins. Bell carried the football four times for nine yards in the contest before leaving the game with a mid-foot sprain, which caused him to miss the team’s 26-20 overtime loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Another running back who is attempting to prove what he’s got and make the final cut is Felix Jones, who was acquired by the Steelers from the Philadelphia Eagles last week for backup LB Adrian Robinson. During the Kansas City game, Jones rushed for 29 yards on eight carries, which didn’t exactly move the needle in Pittsburgh. The good news for Jones is no one else stood out either as Jonathan Dwyer carried the ball eight times for 25 yards while Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling didn’t enter the contest. The other running back vying for a sport on the final roster, second-year back out of Wyoming Alvester Alexander, carried the ball three times for 17 yards.
Another log-jammed position where Pittsburgh will definitely need to make some cuts will be at the wide receiver spot where there are eight players on the roster and likely five spots available. With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, rookie Markus Wheaton and Jericho Cotchery all locks to earn spots, it will come down to four others competing for one or maybe two jobs. Those five players are rookie wideouts Justin Brown and Reggie Dunn along with second-year players Kashif Moore and Derek Moye. It’s anyone’s guess which one or two of these players Tomlin will go with, but based on numbers alone Brown is probably in the lead (five receptions and 37 yards, all in a single game this preseason).
At the tight end position, the job will be veteran Heath Miller’s once he is set to return following rehab from his gruesome December knee injury. However, there are a few candidates who are attempting to make a case for themselves to back up Miller. David Paulson has a great chance to make the roster based on the uncertainty of whether Miller will be back in time for the team’s opening-week contest versus the Tennessee Titans and Matt Spaeth out indefinitely as well. Veteran TE David Johnson will probably make the final 53-man cut as well seeing how the Steelers will have to field a backup for Paulson.
The Steelers are set on the offensive line with their entire starting five remaining healthy through the preseason. LT Mike Adams, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro and RT Marcus Gilbert all are ready to go, which means that the only uncertainty for the Steelers’ big uglies will be their understudies. Guy Whimper, Mike Golic Jr., Joe Long, Kelvin Beachum, John Malecki, Joe Madsen and Chris Hubbard will all look to battle it out for the team’s backup positions and will use the Carolina game to make a case for themselves. How well they can project Jones and how much room they create for the backs will determine who will make the team and who will possibly be sent to the practice squad on September 1.