Three sets of five. Do your quick multiplication and you get 15. Thank your 3rd grade teacher (Mrs. Trawinsky, for me) for the lesson and more to the point, realize that 15 is the number of offensive linemen the Pittsburgh Steelers bring into almost every training camp.
As it stands today, the team has just 14. I know to many, it’s inconsequential, but if you obsess about the details like I do, it feels likely the team will add one more linemen before Friday’s first practice.
The team was at 15 back in early May. Mike Adams was released, part of the effort to get down to the 90 man roster, and since, no replacement linemen has been added. A lateral move has been made everywhere else. Donald Washington for Isaiah Fleming. Cameron Stingily and Brandon Brown-Dukes for Christian Powell and Rajon Neal. Brandon Johnson for Abou Torre. Most recently, Mandel Dixon for Matt Spaeth.
But nothing for the line.
So when we try to tease out this unit, a very rough gauge, here’s what we get.
LT: Alejandro Villanueva
LG: Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert
LT: Jerald Hawkins
LG: Chris Hubbard
C: Cody Wallace
RG: B.J. Finney
RT: Ryan Harris
LT: Brian Mihalik
LG: Cole Manhart
C: Quinton Schooley
RT: Matt Feiler
You can see the gap. One of the third-team guard spots is unmanned. This isn’t something most fans are going to care about, a player most assume won’t make the team, but internally, you want to shore up your numbers. Construct your roster so you’re able to get into camp without scrambling.
When you look back at previous rosters, the team has been committed to 15 total linemen. Last year, the team even made a last-second signing of Kelvin Palmer to be that 15th man after Adams underwent back surgery. There were 15 in 2014 (Will Simmons and Bryant Browning should usher in some nostalgia) 2013 (Nik Embernate) 2012 (with the once loved, now forgotten Ryan Lee), and 2011 (even after Dorian Brooks left the team).
It makes sense mathematically and philosophically. For the first week, the Steelers usually don’t ask any linemen to play two positions. They rep everyday at a single spot and after that first week, start their Chinese Fire Drill. Knowing injuries will happen, rest will be given – especially to Maurkice Pouncey, who could work every other day – it would be highly unusual for this team to come into camp with basically a close-to 13 man group.
As shown above, you can most likely anticipate the team signing a guard. Determining that specific name is a needle in a haystack but here are the three guards who went through rookie minicamp and ultimately unsigned. Often, those are the first players called back.
Mississippi State’s Justin Malone, South Carolina’s Michael Matulis, and Ole Miss’ Aaron Morris. Malone and Morris offer a lot of college experience while Matulis showed more versatility, playing guard and tackle during an injury-marred career. This is also the time for teams to start creating their emergency lists so there could be another pool or unknown names on speed dial. The name isn’t as important as identifying the need.
So who could be the odd man out? Bring one man on, gotta let another go. It’s hard to identify which positions the Steelers are “heavy” at, especially acknowledging the spots that may have an extra name – running back and safety – are probably in anticipation of someone starting camp on PUP. In this case, Le’Veon Bell and Mike Mitchell.
The team is carrying one more receiver than last year, 11 versus 10, but they’ve brought in 11 before. If you’re looking for names among this group, you could see Levi Norwood or Issac Blakeney get a pink slip. Norwood’s return value isn’t going to stand out in this crowd and though Blakeney has promise, he is raw and may be too far behind.
If Mitchell does not start the year on PUP, it’s highly likely someone in the secondary is gone. Cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz is a potential name with Ray Vinopal in the same boat at safety.
The easy name to call out is long snapper Matt Dooley. Greg Warren has his spot sewn up and there are next to no odds the team keeps Dooley on the practice squad. Since Dooley doesn’t appear able to play other positions, unlike Ian Wild last season, he may not make it to camp. That would be the safest, smartest, and lamest Vegas bet.
Yes, this is the tedious minutia that most are going to ignore. But it’s a reminder that the Steelers roster is like Whole Foods. Organic and pretty expensive. A roster move to add a guard will be just one of many throughout camp.