The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to one of last year’s preseason favorites yesterday, as defensive end Brian Arnfelt was a member of the team’s first roster cuts in order get in compliance with the Tuesday 75-man roster limit.
Early in the offseason, it seemed almost as though he would be a shoe-in to make the roster this year. He nearly made it a year ago, spending most of the season on the practice squad, and was later called up during the season. Cameron Heyward spoke highly of him multiple times during the offseason.
But the reality is that he did nothing this preseason to suggest that he could make the roster. He was already on that path early in training camp when he lost reps to a pair of undrafted rookie free agents.
With the return of Brett Keisel, the Steelers figure to have four defensive ends already as roster locks, with the two aforementioned in addition to Cam Thomas and rookie Stephon Tuitt.
It would not surprise me if they keep two more, albeit one or both on the practice squad, as it seems they have several young defensive ends that have shown promise. Josh Mauro would be the front-runner of that group, having logged 65 snaps so far this preseason. He figures to have the best chance of sneaking onto the 53-man roster as a seventh defensive lineman.
But there is also Ethan Hemer and last year’s seventh-round draft pick, Nick Williams, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve.
Williams in particular is interesting because of his size and athleticism, which leads me to wonder how much we should expect to see him play in the final preseason game.
The second-year defensive end played a respectable number of snaps in the preseason opener—13 in total—and showed well in that performance. But over the past two games, he has only played 10 snaps combined, with two of them being kneel downs.
Even Roy Philon played in the second preseason game ahead of Williams, until the former was seemingly benched mid-drive after losing contain and allowing the quarterback to scramble for a first down. Williams played the last six nickel defense snaps in that game, including achieving a nice push in the pocket on Vic So’oto’s strip sack.
In the last game, the Steelers played nearly exclusively in the nickel defense with the second-team defense, with Daniel McCullers as one of the linemen. Mauro was the right defensive tackle on the second-team defense’s first drive, followed by Hemer. Williams was left with the scraps at the end of the game.
It may be worth noting that Williams has been listed on the second-team defensive line on the Steelers’ depth chart since Keisel was re-signed—yet that same depth chart lists Keisel behind the third-teamers for now. Williams has for the most part been picking up the scraps up until now. Will he get his opportunity to feast tomorrow night in his bid to stay with the team?