The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Who will the Steelers release in order to activate Marcus Gilbert from the suspended list?
The Steelers are at the moment working with a 54-man roster, as they have been given a roster exemption for Marcus Gilbert, who has returned to practice after serving a four-game suspension. If he is to play on Monday, of course, he will need to be activated, which means a roster spot will need to be opened. So who are the likely candidates?
Whenever a player returns, you have to consider his position. At the moment, Matt Feiler is the low man on the totem pole there. He has not been dressing after being passed on the depth chart by Jerald Hawkins. The team did release tackle Jake Rodgers from the practice squad though, which could be a sign in his favor.
The next places to look would be the positions of abundance. Wide receiver is to be ruled out as Antonio Brown deals with his injury. But there is excess at linebacker and cornerback as both groups get healthy again.
With Joe Haden back, and Cameron Sutton passing Coty Sensabaugh on the depth chart while also being used in his special teams roles, the sixth-year veteran has to be considered a candidate for release. But rookie Brian Allen could also be cut, even as he has become a fairly important player on special teams.
At linebacker, all of the reserves play important roles on the inside on special teams, including Sean Spence, who appears to be the new starter at the mack. L.J. Fort could possibly be a candidate for release, however, even as they use him on third downs. Tyler Matakevich is too important on special teams; Fort has been released before.
This will be seen as blasphemy, but James Harrison is also a darkhorse candidate for release. He rarely plays and is frequently on the inactive list. T.J. Watt has exceeded expectations, and Harrison was a contingency plan that may no longer be needed.
I would also not be doing my due diligence without naming tight end Xavier Grimble, safety J.J. Wilcox, and nose tackle Daniel McCullers as we exhaust our options here. But the numbers at tight end and safety likely protect them, while the Steelers always prefer to have at least six defensive linemen. Their recent adaptation of a three-lineman sub-package also makes the numbers more valuable.