The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t report to training camp for five weeks and while we have quite a few roster battle posts planned for you prior to reporting day, now is a good time to go over some of the most intriguing players currently on the team’s 90-man roster who aren’t rookies.
While all six of the players that I listed below won’t make the team’s final 53-man roster this year, a few just might.
Alejandro Villanueva – Tackle – We certainly have dedicated quite a few posts to the former Army captain since he was signed to the Steelers practice squad last year and he is perhaps the team’s most intriguing player on the 90-man roster headed into training camp this year, as we just don’t know much about him. For starters, it’s hard not to root for him because of his backstory. Additionally, he now has the ideal size (6-9, 340lb-ish) to play left tackle at the NFL level. His conversion from defensive lineman to offensive lineman has been overseen by position coach Mike Munchak and we’ll finally get a good look at him when the team arrives at Latrobe for 18 practices in addition to the five preseason games that he’s sure to play his fair share of snaps in. While the hype of Villanueva might very well end up being too much by the time early September rolls around, it’s still fun to think about the possibilities of him making the final 53-man roster as a swing tackle.
Clifton Geathers – Defensive End – When the 2014 season ended, I really didn’t think that Geathers would be a player that the Steelers would try to re-sign. Defensive line coach John Mitchell, however, specifically requested that that happen, so he obviously sees something in the South Carolina product who barely seems to be able to keep one of his feet in the NFL. Geathers didn’t even dress for a game with the Steelers after he was signed to the roster later in 2014 season, so fans will finally get to see him in full pads this summer. Being as he’s reportedly dropped 50 pounds since he joined the team shows that he’s dedicated to making one final charge at extending his career. He also appears to be feisty player even in practice as he’s been at the center of a few scuffles since joining the team. The Steelers could certainly stand to use some quality depth on their defensive line this year and hopefully Geathers can provide it. Like Villanueva, Geathers ought to see a lot of playing time during the team’s five preseason games and you can bet that we’ll be monitoring his play closely during those contests in addition to how he performs while at Latrobe.
Shawn Lemon – Outside Linebacker – Lemon is hoping to add his name to the list of players currently in the NFL who initially made names for themselves in the CFL. The Akron product recorded 13 sacks in 2014 for the champion Calgary Stampeders in addition to registering a league record eight forced fumbles. While he certainly figures to have a tough transition to the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense when it comes to things like setting the edge against the run and dropping into coverage, his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks in the CFL can’t be ignored. Now, we’ll get to see if he can carry over his redeeming qualities against NFL competition this summer in his uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster.
B.W. Webb – Cornerback- Barring injuries, we already know that the Steelers 2015 roster will include experienced cornerbacks William Gay, Cortez Allen and Antwon Blake in addition to rookie draft picks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant. However, what if the coaching staff decides to keep six cornerbacks in total on their final 53-man roster? Webb is no stranger to the team being as he was added to the 53-man roster prior to the 2014 season. However, being as he spent all of last preseason with the Dallas Cowboys, he only managed to play six snaps in total with the Steelers as he was mostly relegated to special teams duties in the games that he dressed for. Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers might have very well drafted Webb in 2013 instead quarterback Landry Jones had the William and Mary product not been selected one pick earlier. Being as both Golson and Grant are rookies, the team could perhaps use an early-season experienced depth chart buffer between them in 2015 and that buffer could very well wind up being Webb, who is best-suited to play in the slot. It will be interesting to see what unit Webb runs with during training camp and the preseason and while Golson might just easily overtake him on the team’s final depth chart, he still could potentially have value because of his position versatility.
Matt Conrath – Defensive End – By now, you probably have read the article on Conrath that Alex Kozora just recently wrote. Much like the aforementioned Geathers, Conrath has already logged some meaningful playing time in the NFL since going undrafted in 2012. That playing time, however, was mostly spent with the St. Louis Rams as a 4-3 defensive tackle and that’s a position he’s just not best-suited for. His measurables and Virginia college tape showed he’s better-suited to play defensive end in a 3-4 defense and that’s likely the reason why the Steelers signed him to a futures contract this offseason. His previous experience playing inside at the NFL level might also help him from a versatility standpoint when it comes to his upcoming training camp roster battle. If Geathers is able to beat out veteran underachiever Cam Thomas for a roster spot this summer, one would think that Conrath might be able to beat out the more expensive player as well. At that point, rookie draft pick L.T. Walton and the inexperienced former undrafted free agent Ethan Hemer might be Conrath’s only obstacles when it comes to making the final roster as a sixth defensive lineman.
C.J. Goodwin – Wide Receiver – I’ll admit that I was shocked Goodwin stuck around all last season on the Steelers practice squad and while he probably benefited from the new rule that allowed teams to keep 10 players instead of eight, he still evidently showed enough upside during the season to warrant a return trip to Latrobe. Even though he was signed to the offseason roster last June per the recommendation of Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount, Goodwin failed to see action in any of the preseason games. That figures to change this year and while he’s still a long shot to make the final cut this year, he still figures to have a good chance at making the practice squad again this season. If there’s any position coach in the league that can get Goodwin to achieve his ceiling, it’s the Steelers Richard Mann. Remember, Goodwin was listed at 6 feet 3, 190 pounds and he recorded a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical jump at the 2014 Super Regional combine in Detroit.