While it seems often to be the intention, as things usually turn out, the Pittsburgh Steelers more often than not have wound up carrying eight offensive linemen into a season rather than nine. This is usually the result of having only one true tackle with an additional interior player than can also line up outside if need be.
More importantly, the Steelers typically only dress seven offensive linemen, and reserve linemen are rarely used for special teams purposes, so the ninth lineman roster spot often ends up going to another position, one that is more likely to have the potential to contribute on special teams if need be.
In fact, the last two times that the Steelers really started a season with nine offensive linemen on the roster, it really didn’t work out too well.
First, we should go back to the 2012 NFL Draft, during which they drafted three offensive linemen. All three made the roster, but the key addition, first-rounder David DeCastro only made the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to be moved to the short-term injured reserve list, so that left them with eight. By the time he was back late in the season, another two or three linemen were on injured reserve.
In 2014, the Steelers carried rookie fifth-round pick Wesley Johnson as their ninth lineman. A prospective five-position player, Johnson was limited to playing center for the team during the preseason, but he made the roster, even though he never dressed for a game. When a need arose to address the special teams unit, however, he was released to make room, and was claimed off waivers before he could be signed to the practice squad.
This is potentially significant when we consider that the Steelers are looking like they will be carrying nine linemen again for the 2016 season. They added not one, but two true tackles during the offseason, one during free agency, who will compete for the starting left tackle job, and one through the draft, in the fourth round. It would seem surprising of both do not make the roster.
As for the interior reserves, they are already returning both of their most significant players in that respect, and a third, B.J. Finney, is vying for a roster spot as well. A priority undrafted free agent, he spent most of the season on the practice squad, and he spent some of that time making a full 53-man roster-equivalent salary that indicated the team’s desire to keep him around—and perhaps other teams’ interest in him.
That alone is 10 players who are legitimately in contention to claim a spot on the 53-man roster, and surely at least one of them will fail to do so. Provided that injuries do not end up ‘solving’ the problem for them, however, as is often the case, nine of them likely will.
But that ninth player probably should not get overly comfortable. Should the team find the need arise for a temporary roster fill-in, it might be his position that is the first they go after. That includes rookie fourth-rounder Jerald Hawkins. The Steelers released 2010 fourth-round outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson rather than place Aaron Smith on injured reserve that year because he was the low man on the totem pole.