The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t seem to be overly impressed with their 90-man offseason roster last year. Not only did they end up acquiring three players for their 53-man roster a day after final cuts that were not with the team, even their practice squad was largely culled together from the rosters of other teams after they made their cuts.
Three of their 10 initial practice squad players were added from other teams; namely, running back Dominique Brown, tight end Harold Spears, and offensive lineman Antonio Johnson. Soon, a fourth player was added to replace one from their 90-man roster in Isaiah Burse, and then a fifth in Barrett Jones.
But these are not the names that stick out as interesting, because, in fact, they were all replaced. And it is the names of these replacements that stick out, because they all remain with the team today, and some perhaps could be vying for bigger roles, perhaps even spots on the 53-man roster this year.
Most significantly, Brown was replaced just a day later with another player from another team: Fitzgerald Toussaint. As you know, Toussaint was promoted from the practice squad in the second half of the season, eventually became the team’s backup running back, and started the Steelers’ two playoff games due to injury. He currently is the clear favorite to serve as the third-string running back.
Meanwhile, Spears, the tight end, was also replaced the next day with Xavier Grimble. The former USC tight end has intermittently received from positive praise from his coaches, even during this offseason. While they have their three tight ends in place for this season, they may choose to keep four if Grimble forces their hands, especially with Matt Spaeth in the last year of his contract during his age-33 season.
Johnson was a part of the same next-day practice squad turnover, and his position was overturned by the addition of tackle Matt Feiler. He remained on the practice squad for the entire season and was signed to a Reseve/Future contract. Of course, the Steelers bolstered their tackle depth during this offseason, but he should still be in position for a spot on the practice squad.
Burse was added to the practice squad along with Toussaint, Grimble, and Feiler, but was soon released when Tyler Murphy was moved from the 53-man roster to the practice squad. Meanwhile, Jones, who replaced a lineman who was on the 90-man roster, was himself replaced by a different lineman who was on the 90-man roster.
That lineman was B.J. Finney, who was perhaps the closest player to make the 53-man roster that did not. His injury at the end of the final preseason game is the only reason that he did not make the practice squad initially. When he was healthy, he was signed.
Eventually, he was even offered a weekly pay equivalent to the rostered minimum to keep him on board. He and Toussaint have the strongest opportunities to either make the leap to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, or at least to stay there. Grimble has a chance as well. Perhaps even Caushaud Lyons.
Either way, I think it would be fair to say that the Steelers were relatively successful in replenishing some of their talent deficit at the back end of their roster pool by selectively adding from the ‘scrap heap’ of other teams’ roster cuts.