By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers did not waste much time cutting their roster down to the requisite 75 a day after their third preseason game, and there were certainly some very notable, albeit not very surprising moves, including one move to injured reserve.
The Steelers announced that they have placed rookie seventh-round defensive end Nick Williams on injured reserve. He was battling injuries during training camp, but he returned to play in the second preseason game, and even registered a sack. He either re-aggravated his previous injury once the team got back to Pittsburgh or suffered a new injury, however, because he did not play last night.
The move to place Williams on the Reserve/Injured List opens the door for the Steelers to retain rookie undrafted free agent defensive end Brian Arnfelt, who has run as the second-team left defensive end for much of the offseason while Al Woods was taking reps at nose tackle. Arnfelt did a nice job throughout the preseason thus far, so even if he does not make the active roster as a seventh lineman, I would think that he is a shoe-in for the practice squad.
Unsurprisingly, the Steelers also placed second-year linebacker Sean Spence on the Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform list as he continues his arduous march back from a severe knee injury suffered almost a year ago that resulted in nerve damage. The only thing that could remotely be considered surprising about this move is in the positive vein, in that he was not placed on the Reserve/Injured List, meaning the Steelers still believe that he has a chance to play this season. While that is not guaranteed, he now has another few months to give it a try before the team must make the decision to end his season.
Also waived with injuries were offensive lineman Justin Cheadle and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke. There was some early buzz around Cheadle as a potential roster candidate after spending some time on the practice squad last season, and he played the second half of the first preseason game at center. He later suffered a ‘significant’ hamstring injury that was serious enough to keep him out of practices for a while.
Van Dyke is an unfortunate move because he is a player with seemingly a lot of potential as a former third-rounder with good size and great speed. He suffered a significant hamstring injury of his own early in training camp, however, and he never got back on the practice field, making it no surprise that he was cut. He had earned nothing heading into camp, so his inability to contribute necessitated the move.
Among the most notable cuts are clearly linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and running back Baron Batch, although they too are not surprising moves. Despite running with the second-team defense, an ankle injury in the first preseason game led to Sylvester playing just one snap, and he appeared to never get back on the practice field. With inside linebackers such as Marshall McFadden, Brian Rolle, Kion Wilson, and rookie Vince Williams all showing up and playing well, the Steelers opted to go with the healthy bodies at arguably the deepest position on the roster.
Batch was the odd man out in the running back room, especially after the Steelers traded for Felix Jones. While he has done well in pass protection and special teams, and showed a little something as a pass catcher in this preseason, his running ability has consistently left much to be desired and both Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling possess some of the traits that Batch was expected to bring to the table, making him expendable.
Also released today were offensive tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Mike Farrell, wide receivers David Gilreath, Tyler Shaw, and J.D. Woods, cornerback Ryan Steed, tight end Peter Tuitupou, running back Jeremy Wright, and quarterback John Parker Wilson. None of these moves are much of a surprise.
Shaw and Wright in particular stood virtually no chance as late camp injury replacements. Steed was an early camp injury replacement. Gilreath literally fumbled away his opportunity to make the roster, and Derek Moye and Justin Brown had clearly passed him on the depth chart. It is not clear why the Steelers would have cut Woods ahead of Kashif Moore, but realistically, neither were going to make the roster after barely contributing in the last two games. It is likely that Brown or Moye will make the active roster with the other going to the practice squad.
Batiste and Farrell did not see any playing time in the last preseason game. Batiste logged 23 snaps as the right tackle in the second game, however, without giving up a hurry in pass protection, but was poor as a run blocker. It is telling that the Steelers played Joe Long as the second-team right tackle last night, and the Steelers seem to feel that he passed the initial test after parting with these two tackles. Long gave up some in pass protection, which is not surprising, but he was solid as a run blocker. He could potentially earn a spot on the active roster if he does well in the last preseason game.
Tuitupou was obviously not going to make the roster ahead of David Paulson, David Johnson, or Michael Palmer, and this move suggests that he was also behind Nathan Overbay at the position. Couple that with the likelihood that Heath Miller will not be put on the PUP list and you see that he had no chance.
Last but not least is John Parker Wilson. His only chance of making the roster was if rookie Landry Jones completely fell on his face. While Jones struggled early on, he showed some signs of life playing the second half of the second preseason game despite consistently being under duress, including scoring the team’s first offensive touchdown with a pass to Moye. Wilson played the fourth quarter of the first preseason game, and that was it.
At the end of the day, there was nothing really surprising here, except maybe Williams being placed on IR. After not dressing for the third preseason game following being able to play in the second, however, it was obvious that something was up. It is unfortunate that Van Dyke and Sylvester had their chances to make the roster ruined by injuries. However, the inside linebacker position is stocked, and with safeties that can play in the slot, the secondary will be fine as well, with Terry Hawthorne’s path to a roster spot getting a bit easier to boot.