With the 2015 NFL Draft and rookie minicamp now in the rearview mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers 90-man offseason roster is getting pretty close to set, although there are always some late movements to balance out positional numbers or replace injured or underperforming players.
Now that the rookie class in in-house and the tryout players have either come and gone or stuck around, it’s time to take one last look at the Steelers’ roster as we head into the meat of the offseason. We now turn to the defensive side of the ball, where there is a ton of depth everywhere. Let’s start with defensive end.
Cameron Heyward: Heyward should be entering the prime of his career, if he’s not already there. 2014 was his first offseason preparing as a starter and his first year as a full-time starter. He turned in a more than worthy performance, highlighted by his 7.5 sacks, but he still have room for growth in terms of turnover generation and consistency against the run.
Stephon Tuitt: Arguably the most intriguing starter this season, Tuitt was a rare rookie exception by cracking the starting lineup by the end of his first year. This time, he will be fully accountable for his performance.
Cam Thomas: As yet not a cap casualty despite his $2 million salary, Thomas will be relegated, most likely, to the role of the fourth or fifth lineman this season, likely only seeing a handful of snaps per game, should he indeed make the final 53-man roster.
Clifton Geathers: Re-signed at the behest of the Steelers’ defensive line coach, Geathers was signed late in the year as an injury replacement. His size and apparently demeanor makes him an interesting candidate, but he’s far from a shoe-in to make the roster.
L.T. Walton: The rookie Walton profiles as a defensive end who can slide inside in sub-packages due to his 320-pound frame. Still, he will have to battle for a roster spot if he hopes to avoid the practice squad as a rookie.
Ethan Hemer: Hemer was the third option when it came to a crowded preseason competition amongst young defensive ends last year. The first two options were signed off the practice squad, so the Steelers added Hemer. He will try to make the jump this year, but figures to be a darkhorse.
Joe Kruger: A former seventh-round pick, Kruger spent his rookie season on injured reserve, and then bounced around practice squads before landing on Pittsburgh’s in November. He has bulked up since entering the league.
Matt Conrath: Conrath is a former undrafted free agent that played a bit on a deep Rams line, but was ultimately let go last year after two seasons in a numbers game. He simply adds to what should hopefully be an interesting competition.
Niko Davis: A rookie undrafted free agent small-school prospect, the young man clearly has quite an uphill battle on his hands.
Notes: As can be seen, not much is settled outside of the starting lineup here. The second-tier players consist of a pair of journeyman free agents of little regard, followed by a late-round rookie and similarly inexperienced players. We’ll see if the team falls back on the veterans when the final 53 comes in.