The Pittsburgh Steelers will begin the second half of their 2016 preseason schedule Friday night on the road against the New Orleans Saints and while most of the team’s 53-man roster seems to be etched in stone, seven or eight spots still appear to remain up for grabs.
Below is a look at the top roster spot battles that figure to still be in play for the Steelers with two preseason games remaining.
Gradkowski vs. Vaughan vs. Renner – The Steelers have a long history of keeping three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster so one would think that trend will continue this year. Thanks to injuries during the first two preseason games the Steelers currently have five quarterbacks on their 90-man roster and that’s two more than they’d like to have at this point in the year. With Bruce Gradkowski and Dustin Vaughan both expected to be sidelined the remainder of the preseason, newcomer Bryn Renner will likely get a chance to show what he has in the final two preseason games. Additionally, the Steelers will undoubtedly have scouts at other preseason games around the league looking at young and old quarterbacks who could potentially be out of a job in a few weeks.
Johnson vs. Fort vs. Matakevich – With two preseason games remaining, these three players continue to fight for what looks like will only be two available roster spots. While Steven Johnson has yet to make the most impact of these players when it comes to play on the defensive side of the football, his history of strong special teams contributions will make him a very tough player to cut in the coming weeks. The battle between Fort and Matakevich has certainly been fun to watch as both have played well during the team’s first two preseason games. Both can contribute on special teams and with Fort having the most experience of the two players in addition to being the better coverage guy, I have him as the slight leader right now. Who knows, maybe Johnson will be the odd man out. I’d bet against that but stranger things have happened when it comes to the backend of the 53-man roster
Hubbard vs. Finney – With it currently looking like the Steelers will only carry nine total offensive linemen this year, this battle between Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney still figures to be up in the air entering the final two preseason games. Hubbard, the jack of all trades but master of none, hasn’t played any center or right guard during the preseason. Finney, on the other hand, has only seen snaps at right guard and center during the preseason. Both of these players have had their issues during the preseason and with backup center Cody Wallace now banged up, I suspect Finney could see a lot of playing time Friday night at two positions. Hubbard really needs to get some more guard work in during the preseason.
Garner vs. Shabazz vs. Dangerfield – Barring any more injuries, eight defensive back spots seem to be already spoken for and that includes a few going to safety Shamarko Thomas and cornerback Doran Grant. Also, let’s not forget that the team might decide to keep cornerback Senquez Golson on their initial 53-man roster prior to moving him to the Reserve/Injured list a few days later. Will the Steelers keep 9 or 10 total defensive backs this year? If they do keep 10, cornerbacks Montell Garner and Al-Hajj Shabazz along with safety Jordan Dangerfield figure to be the three players currently battling for a possible two spots. With Garner likely having the most position flexibility of the three players being as he can play the nickel as well as outside, it’s easy to think he might be the favorite in this battle. While these three players are certainly worth watching in the team’s final two preseason games and especially when it comes to the special teams play of each, there is a very good chance that none of them wind up on the 53-man roster the team takes to Washington for their 2016 regular season opener. We’ve seen the Steelers go outside the organization in the past for defensive backs after the league-wide final cuts are made so don’t be surprised if they choose to go that route again this year.
Walton vs. Lyons – I hesitated even adding this battle to the list but until L.T. Walton is able to get himself back on the field after missing the team’s most recent preseason game due to back tightness, one would think that Caushaud Lyons still has a tiny prayer at making the final roster as the team’s sixth defensive lineman. Make no mistake that this is Walton’s spot to lose and he did play well in the team’s first preseason game to boot. If he duplicates that effort in the team’s third preseason game this coming Friday night, I think we’ll be able to call this battle at that point.
Grimble vs. Grimble – With two preseason games remaining it appears as though young tight end Xavier Grimble is battling himself for a roster spot. After all of the hype Grimble received dating back to the middle of last year when he was on the team’s practice squad, his play so far during the preseason has been very uninspiring. If Ladarius Green isn’t healthy by the start of the regular season, the Steelers might need Grimble as their third tight end and as a special teams contributor. However, if he continues to play very uneven in the final two preseason games, we could see the Steelers looks to add another experienced tight end after all of the final cuts around the league are made.