The 53-man roster is not set in stone just yet—and the waiver wire can quickly change things in the coming days—but when the Pittsburgh Steelers officially announce their cuts later today, the indications suggest that among those who remain will be 10 linebackers, with five inside and five outside.
If that number struck you as odd, it is because it is odd. Even for a 3-4 defense that regularly plays four linebackers on the field simultaneously, it is rather uncommon for a team to carry numbers into the double digits at the position.
That goes for the Steelers as much as anybody. Pittsburgh has not carried 10 linebackers on the roster since 1996, which was a situation complicated by injuries and quickly turned to nine when Greg Lloyd was placed on injured reserve after the second game of the season.
Of course, the circumstances of the team’s roster makeup are different this year, with the right factors conspiring to make this decision not only the best option, but the most pragmatic, when projecting the future of the team.
It would be useful first to list the 10 linebackers projected to make the roster. At outside linebacker, the roster is expected to consist of Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, Bud Dupree, and Anthony Chickillo. At inside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Terence Garvin.
It would probably be fair to say that the top four at each position faced very minimal risk of failing to make the roster. With the exception of Dupree, obviously, who was the Steelers’ first-round selection in the past draft, all were on the roster last season and garnered significant playing time.
This season, the Steelers want to establish a rotation at outside linebacker, with Jones and Moats starting on the right and left sides, respectively. Harrison and Dupree will rotate behind them in an effort to keep the pass rush fresh.
While Shazier is not likely to be subbed out as he was during his first season, the Steelers still highly value the services of Spence and Williams as the reserves behind Shazier and Timmons, respectively. Williams is the only other player with the desired size and shedding ability to play the buck behind Timmons.
That leaves, then, Garvin, entering his third season as a former undrafted free agent minicamp tryout, and Chickillo, who is a rookie sixth-round draft pick.
In the case of the latter, Chickillo’s girlfriend certainly seems to be under the impression that he will be on the 53-man roster. This would not be a surprise when considering that the Steelers had been actively feeding him as much special team work as possible. The only unit on which he did not serve was the field goal kicking unit.
As for Garvin, while there are as yet no reports on his status, it doesn’t seem likely that he would be cut at this point. He continued to establish himself as a core special teams player this season, and has bulked up and played well on defense, aside from a slip up here and there.
A possible curve ball in all of this could be the L.J. Fort factor. It was reported yesterday that the team plans to release him with the intention of re-signing him to the practice squad. Should that take place, could the Steelers consider releasing Garvin and his restricted free agent tender salary? I don’t believe so, but it is something to track until we know for sure.