The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped things up in minicamp and put an end to their spring practices, which means that we are officially into the dead zone, the slowest time of the year for football news and general activity, the time between the end of spring drills in mid-June to the opening of training camps in late July.
Before we get there, we are going to take a look at how the team’s roster has evolved since prior to the draft, the last time that we broke down the Steelers by position, and obviously a lot has changed since they have fleshed out their 90-man roster.
Total Positional Figure: 8
William Gay: William Gay is now absolutely and decidedly the old man of the group, as aside from Donald Washington, at 31, he is the only cornerback over the age of 24. But he is also still the best they’ve got, and he’s been pretty good. How much longer can he hold the fort?
Ross Cockrell: Ross Cockrell came out of close to nowhere last year, signed on the final roster cut day. He was playing within two weeks and ended up starting in the nickel defense. He figures to enter the starting lineup full-time, hopefully improved physically, mentally, and schematically.
Senquez Golson: Last year’s second-round pick, the goal is for Senquez Golson to be a heavy contributor this year, of course, after missing all of last season. He should be full-go for training camp, and will likely get a lot of work in the slot and outside, and will play where the defense works best, provided he proves to be one of the top three cornerbacks on the roster.
Doran Grant: Another second-year player, Doran Grant is often forgotten about, but shouldn’t be. He was a fourth-round pick and showed some potential in the preseason, even if his performance was pockmarked by missed tackles and a couple of blown coverages or bites on double moves.
Montell Garner: A Reserve/Future signing, Montell Garner got some positive press during spring drills, but that’s all that is for now.
Al-Hajj Shabazz: The same can be said for Al-Hajj Shabazz, who was also signed as a Reserve/Future player. The two may be more realistically competing for a practice squad spot.
Artie Burns: The Steelers finally used a first-round selection on a cornerback with Artie Burns this past draft. An underclassman and somewhat raw, however, he is far from guaranteed to be an immediate contributor. He is an intriguing prospect, however, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they work him into the defense to give him some snaps even if he doesn’t immediately earn a role.
Donald Washington: A college cornerback who later played a few years at safety, Donald Washington was out of the NFL a bit but won a roster spot during tryouts at rookie minicamp. At 29, as mentioned, he is the second-oldest cornerback on the roster by far, yet his NFL experience was at safety.
Tobais Palmer: Another Reserve/Future Player, Tobais Palmer was waived in order to accommodate the signing of Washington, among three other tryout players. He was clearly the low man on the totem pole behind Garner and Shabazz based on that decision.
Notes and Camp Outlook: Though it has been known for some time, it struck me while writing this article and going down the list of names and writing about each just how little this group has accomplished at the NFL level.
Gay is the only player assured to be in the starting lineup at the moment, so there should be plenty of intrigue during training camp and the preseason as to how the starting lineup gets sorted out, but it will also be compelling to see how the bottom of the roster is shaped. Is Grant safe? Can Washington reclaim a roster spot? Might they keep six this year?