It has become the norm in recent seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers to carry five safeties on the 53-man roster. Over the course of the past several seasons, this has more often been the case than not, at least in terms of the initial 53-man roster, or for the bulk of the season.
It may be a more difficult sell to carry five safeties on the 53-man roster this year, and they might even perhaps carry as few as nine total defensive backs in 2016, at least initially, even if their initial 53-man roster included 11 defensive backs.
But that number was immediately cut down to 10 when cornerback Doran Grant was released a day later and signed to the practice squad. Then Ross Ventrone was released five games into the season after suffering an injury as part of a move to promote Martavis Bryant from the suspended list.
In that event, then, the Steelers actually did carry nine defensive backs for the majority of the 2015 season, with Ventrone later being re-signed late in the season as a special teams replacement. But this year, the team may only have room for one special-teams-oriented safety between himself and Shamarko Thomas, whose prospects of ever being a defensive contributor again seem fleeting.
That is because those roster spots may well be needed elsewhere this year. Of course, this will all be determined on the field in training camp and in the preseason, but it is easy to speculate how certain areas of the roster might differ from last season’s.
For one thing, it seems that the team is likely to carry nine offensive linemen this year, which has as frequently not been the case as it has in recent years. And we often find that between wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends, they tend to carry at least one extra in this group, either a fourth running back or tight end or a sixth wide receiver.
It would be very surprising if the team carries fewer than 10 linebackers this year, even after losing two in free agency. After all, they finished the 2015 season with 11 on the roster, and they just drafted two, signed one in free agency, and are getting another back from injured reserve. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they end up carrying 11 provided that the bulk of the back end establishes itself as special-teams standouts.
As of now, I can’t see the Steelers carrying any more or less than five cornerbacks. That area already seems cemented in place, but they have had a strong tendency in recent years to add a cornerback after preseason roster cuts have been made. They have done so three times in recent years, most recently with Ross Cockrell last year.
Crunching all the numbers, I find it difficult to find roster spots for both Thomas and Ventrone, the latter of whom has never been viewed as a player who could contribute on defense for the Steelers. While he has been a strong special teams player, the Steelers have shown in the past a willingness to let him go. But if they don’ let him go, the spot he takes may have otherwise belonged to a different safety.