Steelers Game One Depth Chart Prediction

With the first release of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 depth chart will undoubtedly come many questions and many assumptions from fans. I’ll urge you to avoid drawing conclusions of any kind over what is really just a glorified publicity stunt to keep fans engaged on the team’s off day. Nothing wrong with that move at all, but a quick look at a depth chart showing Tyler Murphy at wide receiver and Reese Dismukes at offensive guard – positions neither of them have manned during team drills of the first week of training camp – should tell you all you need to know about how much thought and energy went into this release.

It has however, prompted me to offer fans one man’s thoughts on what they should expect from the depth chart next Sunday when the team faces off against the Minnesota Vikings in the annual Hall of Fame Game. Obviously there will be changes, and my predictions are based on one week of training camp, along with prior knowledge of the players and their positional usage. Still, I think with so many starters sitting out of practice during the first week, it has given us a glimpse into who the coaching staff is favoring and would like to see more of heading into the preseason.

First Team Offense

QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Le’Veon Bell
FB: Will Johnson
WR: Antonio Brown
WR: Markus Wheaton
WR: Martavis Bryant
TE: Heath Miller
OT: Kelvin Beachum
OT: Marcus Gilbert
OG: Ramon Foster
OG: David DeCastro
C: Maurkice Pouncey

Analysis: No surprises here, nor were there expected to be any. It is a rarity to return an entire starting lineup in back-to-back NFL seasons, especially one as talented as Pittsburgh’s. Obviously this group will play very sparingly, and some (Bryant) not at all, but this is generally the group you can expect to see as the Steelers first team offense.

First Team Defense

DE: Cameron Heyward
DE: Stephon Tuitt
NT: Steve McLendon
LOLB: Arthur Moats
ROLB: Jarvis Jones
ILB: Lawrence Timmons
ILB: Ryan Shazier
CB: William Gay
CB: Cortez Allen
CB: Antwon Blake
S: Mike Mitchell
S: Shamarko Thomas

Analysis: A number of these players have been battling injuries during the first week of camp, including Thomas, Mitchell, Shazier, and Jones. McLendon, Heyward, Allen, and Blake, have also been out at various times, but none of the injuries are expected to be serious. I don’t know how much we’ll see of any of them on Sunday, but when healthy, this unit will take the field as the Steelers first team defense.

No real surprises, although I do expect to see Brandon Boykin bump Blake back to the second team defense, I just don’t know how quickly that will happen. Secondary is obviously the area to watch, as depth chart movement is most likely to happen there, but Jones needs to continue to have strong performances at outside linebacker as well. He hasn’t had a bad camp, flashing at times, but when James Harrison returns to the field, expect a nice battle to take place for a starting spot between those two.

Second Team Offense

QB: Landry Jones (for injured Bruce Gradkowski)
RB: DeAngelo Williams
FB: Roosevelt Nix
WR: Eli Rogers
WR: Darrius Heyward-Bey
WR: Sammie Coates
TE: Matt Spaeth
OT: Alejandro Villanueva
OT: Mitchell Van Dyk (for injured Mike Adams)
OG: B.J. Finney
OG: Chris Hubbard
C: Cody Wallace

Analysis: Don’t be surprised when Rogers gets to run with the 1st and 2nd team ahead of Coates. He’s been grouped with those players several times during camp, and has turned some heads in Latrobe. Heyward-Bey and Coates have both been up-and-down, but should hold onto these spots for Sunday. I don’t expect the receiver depth chart to matter much, as the team will likely rotate all the receivers through with each unit, much like they do in practice.

Obviously some injuries will force third team players into action a bit earlier than expected, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kelvin Palmer gets some run over Van Dyk with the second team. Van Dyk has been mediocre in practice, while Palmer has shown good feet and mirroring ability in pass protection. Both players may be a long shot for the final roster, but I expect the team to exhaust opportunities for the duo to shine with a stronger surrounding cast.

Miles Dieffenbach and Finney have alternated spots during practice, but I think the Kansas State guard hangs on to his position with the second team. Like Palmer, Dieffenbach will definitely get chances to prove his worth to the coaching staff with the second team as well.

Side note, Nix is the longest of long shots to make the team or the practice squad, but he is the only other fullback on the roster.

Second Team Defense

DE: Ethan Hemer
DE: Cam Thomas
NT: Daniel McCullers
OLB: Anthony Chickillo (for James Harrison)
OLB: Bud Dupree
ILB: Vince Williams
ILB: Sean Spence
CB: Brandon Boykin
CB: B.W. Webb
CB: Doran Grant
S: Robert Golden
S: Will Allen

Analysis: I’m being a little bit bold with my Hemer prediction, but I think he’s had a consistently solid camp, building upon last year with high effort and improved strength at the point of attack. It isn’t that Clifton Geathers is struggling per say, but he doesn’t use his hands well and can struggle to gain leverage at the line of scrimmage. I think by Sunday, Hemer will surpass him, at least for now.

Expect to still see Geathers in there with the second team, as Thomas will likely get opportunities to show off his versatility at nose tackle too. There has been a heavy rotation along the defensive front in practice, so look for more of that on Sunday.

Harrison likely won’t play on Sunday, leaving the door open for a pair of impressive rookies to get the start. I think Chickillo has vaulted Howard Jones on the depth chart, and while he’s typically on the left side in team periods, the team has been prepping him to rush from either side during one-on-ones.

I think Grant, along with the rest of the second and third team cornerbacks, will see plenty of run throughout the game, but I believe he’s earned reps over Kevin Fogg. It likely won’t matter much as both cornerbacks will see opportunities with the second team defense, but Grant has had an impressive start to camp that has undoubtedly caught the coaching staff’s attention.

Third Team Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd
RB: Josh Harris
RB: Dri Archer
WR: C.J. Goodwin
WR: Devin Gardner
WR: Shakim Phillips
TE: Jesse James
OT: Kelvin Palmer
OT: Kevin Whimpey
OG: Miles Dieffenbach
OG: Collin Rahrig
C: B.J. Finney

Analysis: Dismukes and Finney will likely split snaps when the third team offense comes on, but the Auburn product has struggled mightily during the first week of camp. It hasn’t led to much of a decrease in reps – yet, but I expect by Sunday the team will want to see what Finney offers at both guard and center.

Once you get into third team offense, expect to see the fourth teamers get their reps too. I think the team will want a long look at Cameron Clear and Rob Blanchflower, as a practice squad spot will likely be granted to one of those two.

I threw Archer in here because he’s really just an offensive weapon that should get opportunities to play with every group, but likely won’t receive a large number of rushing attempts.

I elected to stick with Boyd over Murphy for the third team quarterback spot, despite the fact that Murphy has dominated third team reps for several practices in a row now. I think the team is simply seeing what both players can do in the offense, a strategy that they’ll undoubtedly employ on Sunday as well.

Third Team Defense

DE: Clifton Geathers
DE: L.T. Walton
NT: Mike Thornton
OLB: Howard Jones
OLB: Shayon Green
ILB: Terence Garvin
ILB: Jordan Zumwalt
CB: Kevin Fogg
CB: Jordan Sullen
S: Isaiah Lewis
S: Alden Darby

Analysis: Expect to still see Joe Kruger, Matt Conrath, and even Niko Davis cycle in with the third team, but I think Walton has showed some energy and disruptive ability during camp. He has no idea how to use his hands yet, but there is untapped potential there that the coaching staff is going to want a look at. The order here really doesn’t matter, as everyone should see plenty of time with the third and perhaps even the second team (for Geathers anyway). Ultimately all of these guys could have a hard time making the 53-man roster, but I would expect Walton to land a practice squad spot this summer.

The linebackers are self-explanatory, but I do think Jones and Green will have second team opportunities. Both have flashed in camp, and Green even earned reps over Jones yesterday.

Lewis and Darby have been a solid pairing in camp, but watch out for Ian Wild to make noise. He’s a man without a true position, but his movement skills and hustle have opened my eyes during camp. Gerod Holliman will mix in somewhere as well, but he hasn’t received many reps in camp. Ross Ventrone could be out as the team will be careful bringing his ankle back into live action.

Above all else, remember that this is just the first preseason game of the year. It is a great barometer to measure individual players strengths and weaknesses, but don’t put too much stock into who plays with what group. The team will likely continue to mix-and-match players to find their best fits and appropriately measure their level of ability.

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