Camp. Is. Today. Get pumped. In its spirit, as we always do, we like to give our best guesses as to the construction of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53 man practice squad. And keep in mind, with not a single rep in camp taken place, these are very much guesses and very much subject to change.
But here’s my best attempt at it. I have included the 53 man roster and a ten man practice squad. Read ’em and weep.
Quarterback (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones , Bruce Gradkowski
Analysis: Not much to really add here. This group is locked up, barring the team wanting to swap out Gradkowski for someone on the final cut list. The main focus here is who wins Roethlisberger’s backup job but that seems almost certainly to go to Jones.
Running Back (3) – DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Free Agent RB
Analysis: I’m hedging here a bit but with Le’Veon Bell seemingly suspended for the first month, all bets are off as to who that third back is. The team will definitely look in-house first, Daryl Richardson will be a popular name, but I’m not convinced anyone on this roster will combine enough special teams and running back value. There are always plenty of names floating around after cutdowns and I think they find someone off that pile. The pro scouts have done a nice job of finding talent recently.
Fullback (1) – Roosevelt Nix
Analysis: From longshot to lock, props to Nix for coming this far. No threat of him being left off the 53 this year. You go, Glen Coco.
Tight End 3 – Ladarius Green, Jesse James, David Johnson
Analysis: Matt Spaeth is out of the mix but the #3 spot is still up for grabs. Xavier Grimble has a lot of intrigue and I bet he makes some splashy plays, but Johnson’s blocking and versatility makes him a lot more useful on gameday. He can take over for James or Nix for an in-game injury and there’s arguably more trust in him.
Wide Receiver (5) – Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers
Analysis: Only spot worth talking about here is the #5 spot. Totally open, you can just as easily slot in Demarcus Ayers, but I don’t think Rogers is going to press as much and as a receiver, he’s going to be more refined. He played in a pro style offense where he had to read defenses, Ayers was in an open spread that was designed to get him into space. That could make a difference.
But I understand this is a toss up. Rogers caught only six passes in training camp. So both guys are virtually unknowns.
Offensive Tackle (4) – Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Jerald Hawkins
Analysis: Hawkins is raw but there’s no one else who is a threat to his roster spot. Barring a collapse, he should make the roster comfortably. Excited to see him healthy this year and find out who this guy is.
Interior Offensive Line (5) – Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Cody Wallace, Chris Hubbard
Analysis: Only Hubbard’s spot is open and he’ll do battle with B.J. Finney. I’ve stated the case for Hubbard which really boils down to the fact he’s shown his versatility and the team clearly likes him. He’s been counted out time and time again but has made the 53 the last two seasons. Until Finney shows he is worthy to unseat him, I’ll roll with Mother Hubbard.
Defensive Ends (4) – Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton
Analysis: Walton has a lot of work to do but the team sounds excited about him. And I don’t see huge threats behind him even though I sorta have interest in Giorgio Newberry.
Nose Tackle (2) – Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave
Analysis: No surprises or even real intrigue here. Both are safe.
Outside Linebacker (5) – James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo
Analysis: There will be some great battles at linebackers but I’m playing it chalk here. Chickillo made a lot of progress in year one of his transition to outside linebacker and I’m expecting him to be eve n farther ahead a full year into the league. That’s tough for a rookie like Travis Feeney to beat out. With Feeney’s injury and possible lack of conditioning – moreso than a regular rookie – it’s hard for me to imagine Feeney winning that battle.
In fact, though I won’t write down those claims on these predictions, it wouldn’t shock me to see Feeney go on IR at some point if he simply isn’t healthy enough. Even if it doesn’t stem directly from his sports hernia surgery, a lack of conditioning makes you more prone to soft tissue injuries.
Inside Linebacker (5) – Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Steven Johnson, L.J. Fort
Analysis: With me sorta sour on Feeney getting through camp, it opens up another inside linebacker spot. Matakevich will be a popular name and fan favorite and your local preseason broadcast will likely drool over him, but Matthew Marczi got me to come around on Fort. He played legitimately well in camp last year, despite getting signed near the very end. I don’t have a more compelling reason to think Tyler Matakevich will be a vastly superior special teamer either – we’ll have to see it to believe it.
So for now, Fort gets the nod.
Cornerback (6) – William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, Donald Washington
Analysis: I’m not sure if Washington is a surprise or trendy pick at this point but he’s the dark horse of this group. He has the experience, showed some pretty incredible athleticism coming out of college years ago, and has some position versatility. The team liked him enough to sign him out of rookie camp. Rest of the group is chalk.
Safety (4) – Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas
Analysis: As chalk as chalk gets. Still keeping an eye on Will Allen, who could be invited back if this group isn’t up to snuff. You know I love Ross Ventrone but he’s as expendable as that old couch you have. You can put it in the alley and no one is touching it. And if you ever miss it, it’ll be right there waiting for you.
That’s Ventrone. He’ll make the roster if there isn’t a logjam somewhere else that pushes him off the roster. But if there is, in my case, Washington making his way onto the roster, Ventrone is the first to go.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: No such analysis to make here now that Shaun Suisham is gone. Boswell or bust.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: Will Monday should provide some serious competition but I expect Berry to make strides in his second year. And though you can’t make decisions with your heart, I think the team really wants some consistency at the position. At least, aim for it and see if it helps. Changes can always be made during the year.
Long Snapper (1) – Greg Warren
Analysis: Sorry Matt Dooley. No soup for you. Warren will snap until the year 2050, minimum.
53 – 24 OFF, 26 DEF, 3 ST
Running Back – Brandon Brown-Dukes
Analysis: He’s a tiny guy but I have intrigue. Think he’ll show plus vision and burst through the hole.
Wide Receiver – Canaan Severin
Analysis: I had Shakim Phillips on here but with him on the mend, he’ll have to prove health and the glimpses he showed in 2015 to get back onto my irrelevant list. Severin was a popular name as a UDFA and his His size/speed will make him a good scout player of A.J. Green in practice.
Tight End – Xavier Grimble
Analysis: I think he’ll flash and have some fans going crazy over him but he might not mesh well with what the Steelers’ offense demands out of him. Perfect fit to go back on the practice squad.
Offensive Line – B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler
Analysis: One guard, one tackle. Finney loses out to Hubbard while Brian Mihalik is just too raw, though I could see the team giving him the fall to progress.
Defensive Line – Giorgio Newberry, Lavon Hooks
Analysis: Newberry was an interesting name out of Florida State who showed a decent first step and powerful bull rush. Heyward and Tuitt are bound to get some off days during the season to balance out the heavy workload they play with so having an end here is important.
Hooks will serve as nose tackle depth since there’s only two on the 53. His size suggests he’ll be a competent two-gap run stuffer.
Linebacker – Travis Feeney, Tyler Matakevich
Analysis: Like I said, I think Feeney could wind up on injured reserve but for now, we’ll just put him on the practice squad. He will join Matakevich, someone who should provide healthy competition in that room.
Defensive Back – Jacob Hagen
Analysis: Hagen could be a ballhawking safety who is too good to leave off the roster altogether. With Ventrone off the roster, and Mike Mitchell probably getting rest throughout the year, the team needs to add another safety on its roster.