The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: If the Steelers do choose to carry nine offensive linemen this season, who is the most likely to be that player?
The Steelers are not among the teams who believe it is a necessity to carry nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, often preferring to carry eight while retaining two additional linemen on the practice squad. If they have nine talented linemen, they will more often than not endeavor to keep them on the roster, but there have been plenty of exceptions.
Last season was not one of them, partially fueled by the fact that Matt Feiler no longer had practice squad eligibility. It seemed that 2018 would be another no-brainer season in which they would carry nine linemen, but then one of the nine suffered a season-ending injury.
Jerald Hawkins, entering his third season, was the favorite to win the swing tackle job that was vacated by Chris Hubbard after he departed in free agency to sign as a starter with the Cleveland Browns. He served behind Hubbard and was the swing tackle, for four games last year, and was also used as a tackle-eligible tight end.
The only other true tackle on the roster behind the starters guaranteed to have a roster spot this year is rookie Chukwuma Okorafor, whom the Steelers are really hoping will be ready to play in that swing role this season. Feiler is capable of doing it, but they seem to want to leave him inside. Should they carry only eight linemen, that would not be possible.
Barring unforeseen changes, such as an injury, the ninth lineman would almost assuredly be a tackle, or tackle-capable. Jake Rodgers and Bryce Harris are the two most experienced options, though the former has only served on practice squads for the past three seasons.
Joseph Cheek, Larson Graham, and R.J. Prince—the latter an undrafted rookie—are the other options currently on the roster, and the latter two also play inside. I believe Graham has played only inside up to this point in the offseason.
The alternative to these options would be the team signing another player off the street, as they already did with Harris. So if the Steelers do keep that ninth linemen, will it be somebody named above, or would you choose the ‘field’ option?