From the sounds of it, the Pittsburgh Steelers are anticipating the return of starting cornerback Joe Haden. The former Pro Bowler while with the Browns has missed the past five game after he suffered a high partial fracture of his fibula. He was hopeful to return last week after getting back on the practice field, but was not quite ready.
While that is obviously great news for the team, it does add one minor problem that the Steelers will have to figure out. Put simply, who is going to sit when Haden returns? They now have seven healthy cornerbacks on the roster. Will all of them dress? They have been dressing the six healthy ones.
One inactive is obvious: Antonio Brown. He has already been ruled out for the game, and will probably be down the next two weeks. The other obvious candidates: quarterback Joshua Dobbs, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, offensive linemen Matt Feiler and Jerald Hawkins. That gets us down to three more, so let’s discuss some of the candidates:
Safety J.J. Wilcox has been a healthy scratch for the past two weeks after accumulating some special teams penalties. In spite of the fact that they only have four safeties in total, there would seem to be a good chance that continues.
Mike Tomlin seemed confident that Vance McDonald would be back again this week after missing Sunday’s game, so I wouldn’t exactly favor him to sit right now. So let’s look at the positions that have excess: linebacker and cornerback.
James Harrison? I know you don’t even want to be here at this point, but you could very easily be taking a seat yet again. In fact, he would have to be the most likely not to dress from the group, as all of Anthony Chickillo, Tyler Matakevich, Arthur Moats, L.J. Fort, and Sean Spence play key roles on special teams.
At cornerback, it obviously seems as though Coty Sensabaugh is now the low man on the totem pole. Cameron Sutton took all the snaps at left cornerback in the last game, and he has also taken over all or most of his snaps on special teams as well.
So an early prediction at Monday’s inactives would be the following: Joshua Dobbs, Daniel McCullers, Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins, Antonio Brown, and some combination of James Harrison, J.J. Wilcox, and Coty Sensabaugh. The Steelers would still dress nine linebackers and nine defensive backs. They have gone into many seasons with eight or fewer on the 53-man roster.
That is two players that the Steelers added to their secondary via unrestricted free agency and trade. Both of them have started games this year. And if my prediction is right, both of them will find themselves on the bench.
That doesn’t particularly bode well for their immediate future for the remainder of the season, nor for their future tenure with the team. Of course, Brian Allen could be an inactive too, but he is basically a starting gunner and jammer now, and sometimes plays on kick coverage too.
The Steelers will need to make room for Marcus Gilbert on the 53-man roster before Monday’s game, so we could even see Sensabaugh get released. Wilcox is less likely because of the numbers at safety. Feiler is another possibility for release as well. Allen I would say is less likely, but it needs to be mentioned.
So a final look at the inactives should be something like this: Dobbs; McCullers; Hawkins; Brown; Wilcox; Harrison; and whoever is not released between Harrison, Sensabaugh, and Allen.