Now that training camp has finally begun and we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s time to take another crack at predicting the 53-man roster. These predictions are based on the accumulation of data through the offseason, of course, and are not just based on what was seen and heard on day one of practices.
Below will be a simple list of the names and numbers at each position group, followed by a brief explanation of my decisions. As usual, what follows is what I believe will ultimately happen, not necessarily what I personally would choose. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a prediction, but rather a wish list.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
No surprises here. I just can’t see the Steelers ever going into a season with only two quarterbacks on the roster, and the coaching staff obviously has a higher opinion of Jones than many fans do. They’ll give him at least two full seasons to reveal his potential.
Running Back (3): Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
For the time being, I’m sticking to the sentiment that the Steelers believe they can accomplish with their top two backs what most teams do with three. Archer is a wildcard, and snaps after the top two will already be hard to come by. Plus, Johnson can always carry the ball.
Tight End/Fullback (4): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Will Johnson, David Paulson
Because of the way the Steelers are using Johnson, I’m bunching the tight ends and fullbacks up in a throwback to the Bruce Arians days. Perhaps Paulson winning the last tight end spot could qualify as a minor controversy. I think the rookie could probably stand to benefit from some more seasoning on the practice squad, while I expect to see improvement, and more confidence, from the third-year player.
Wide Receiver (6): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Justin Brown, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey
With a deep crop of wide receivers, it would just make sense to make the most of the bounty and carry six of them. The younger Brown makes it and begins to carve out a role for himself. Heyward-Bey serves as the emergency veteran presence in case any of the trio of inexperienced players falters.
Offensive Line (9): Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson
Not much of a surprise among the top seven players. The final two spots are taken up by players who have proven their versatility in the past. Johnson has played all five positions at the college level, while Whimper, new to guard as of last year, played everywhere but center. He should only be more accustomed to guard now.
Defensive Line (6): Cam Thomas, Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Brian Arnfelt, Daniel McCullers
Everybody knows that the top four are going to make the roster, pretty much no matter what. Arnfelt emerges from the mountain of young defensive ends to join the rotation. With Thomas as an eligible body at nose, and the fact that the Steelers will be playing a lot in sub-packages, McCullers gets the chance to redshirt on the 53-man roster with a rep or two here and there.
Linebacker (9): Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Chris Carter, Terence Garvin
No surprises amongst the top seven at the position. Carter gets one last chance in the final year of his rookie contract. Garvin is the new inside-out guy, edging out the rookie by virtue of his knowledge of the system and his contributions on special teams.
Defensive Backs (10): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Shaquille Richardson
I’ve speculated multiple times about the possibility of the Steelers keeping 11 defensive backs, but when push comes to shove, I see them going with the usual 10. Blake is running with the second-team defense opposite Gay on the outside and is a core special teamer. Will Allen’s experience is too valuable to give up on this year. Richardson edges out the back end of the cornerbacks because of his height and smarts, proving that the stage isn’t too big for him.
Special Teams (3): Shaun Suisham, Greg Warren, Brad Wing
There will be a new punter this year either way, but I’m thinking the young, promising leg edges out the older leg who no longer has the consistency it once had. Wing has seemingly gotten his life in order off the field, and he’s ready to capitalize on his potential as a professional.
Practice Squad: Nick Williams, Jordan Zumwalt, Chris Hubbard, Rob Blanchflower, Isaiah Green, Alvester Alexander, Howard Jones, Hebron Fangupo
Addressing just about every position that isn’t already overloaded. Alexander and Hubbard resume the roles they played last year. Fangupo reverts to the practice squad in favor of the rookie, while two other rookies, Zumwalt and Blanchflower, hope to make the roster in year two. Green bounced back and forth last year, starting on the 53. This year, he starts on the practice squad.