With roster cut downs quickly approaching, many NFL hopefuls will soon be looking for a job. While some players will settle for practice squad roles, other may receive the chance to be a part of another organization.
Just like any other team, the Pittsburgh Steelers will soon have to make multiple tough decisions. There are a few key positions that seem a little more unclear than others. Both the receiver and defensive back position seem relatively jammed packed with potential roster hopefuls.
At the moment the receiving corps, to me, is loaded. Traditionally five to six receivers are kept on the opening day 53-man roster. At the moment, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter seem to have roster spots locked up. Personally, I am not a fan of Heyward-Bey because of his apparent troubles at the wide receiver position, however, management views his special team presence as a roster need. Justin Hunter, on the other hand, looks to have big-play potential. Ben Roethlisberger has touted his play-making abilities and the two were able to hook-up for a nice touchdown in Week 3. The new addition of WR/return-man Ryan Switzer from the Raiders appears to be the final guy to make the cut. Making a trade at this point of the preseason shows that the Steelers are willing to make an investment in him and give him a chance. We should also not forget about suspended Eli Rodgers who re-signed in the off-season.
Based on the crowding at the position, I do not see much hope for players like Marcus Tucker, Trey Griffey (yes, Ken Griffey Jr’s son), Quadree Henderson, or Week 1 standout Damoun Patterson.
Next comes the fate of Josh Dobbs. Dobbs will get the start against the Panthers on Thursday night. Currently, I would assume the organization has already made up their mind about whether they plan on keeping Dobbs on the roster. Even as Ben Roethlisberger has aged, the Steelers have not shown they want to keep four active quarterbacks. In this situation, he seems to be the odd man out.
To continue with the offensive theme, the expected return of Le’Veon Bell would lead to less need for extra running backs. Bell and James Connor are locks. Although looking further down the depth chart, a decision will have to be made when looking at Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stevan Ridley, and Jaylen Samuels. In order to get down to 53 players, concessions need to be made somewhere. Carrying four of five running backs would not be practical, especially when Bell and Connor will be the only two who will see regular playing time. Stevan Ridley, to me, is out of the equation. He is an older guy, who has likely seen his best days. Releasing a younger talent for an old workhorse may not be the best idea. Due to the pass-catching abilities of Samuels, I believe the Steelers see him on paper not as a running back, but as a playmaker who could line up at multiple positions. Provided Bell’s obvious lack of preseason reps, Bell, Connor, Toussaint, and Samuels look to be in solid places.
Finally, we turn to the defense. Both the defensive back and linebacker positions are the primary murky areas. Clearly, the defensive line situation with Stephon Tuitt, Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, and Tyson Alualu is solid. Leterrius Walton and Daniel McCullers also look to have spots but versatility could lead to a change there.
As for the linebackers and defensive backs, I am actually going to lump the two positions together. The reason for this is due to the coaching staff’s willingness to experiment with versatile players. As we saw last year, players like William Gay saw time at “linebacker” in certain defensive packages. Mike Tomlin has already expressed his thoughts on this and I would expect to see some more creative packages this regular season. With limited talent at the outside linebacker spot, keeping an extra inside player or defensive back would be foreseeable. There are many talented players, both young and old, in the secondary and at the moment anyone’s guess is reasonable. Beyond the starters like Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Morgan Burnett, Sean Davis, and Mike Hilton, the projected depth chart is a mystery. I would assume players like Terrell Edmunds, and Coty Sensabaugh are safe, but after them, the final preseason game may provide needed insight.
Week 4 of the preseason will give many of these guys mentioned above a chance to make a name for themselves. Whether that be with the Steelers or another NFL team their performances this week could be the difference in obtaining a lifelong dream or just another hurdle in the game called life.
Scott Duda is a featured blogger for SportsTalkLive. Find more from SportsTalkLive on Twitter and Facebook.