The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who has a better chance of making the 53-man roster in 2019: Patrick Morris or R.J. Prince?
The Steelers carried nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster all of last season. They traded one of them—Marcus Gilbert—this offseason, which figures to mean that there is a roster spot potentially available. While they sometimes carry only eight linemen, the accumulated talent they have available to them, I think, makes that unlikely this year.
With Gilbert gone, the most likely player to fill in would be Jerald Hawkins, who has been with the organization for the past three seasons, but has spent two of those years on injured reserve, including last season.
Even if we assume that Hawkins, who will compete for the starting right tackle job, does make the roster, we can’t assume that the other tackle, Zach Banner, does. For one reason, especially, and that is that he offers the least versatility of the aspiring candidates.
Banner, all 6’8”, 360 pounds of him, is limited, more or less, to being a tackle, and perhaps only a right tackle, though I do believe he could play both sides in a pinch. But especially if Matt Feiler wins the starting right tackle job, the team would already have Hawkins and Chukwuma Okorafor at tackle.
On the other hand, both Patrick Morris, a natural interior player who can play center, and R.J. Prince, who has been being flexed out into a potential five-position player, offer the interior backup position that they would be lacking with Feiler in the starting lineup.
B.J. Finney is, of course, the top interior reserve, but the Steelers prefer to have at least five interior-capable players on the 53-man roster. Feiler would be the fifth, but they wouldn’t want to move him if he is starting.
Prince in particular seemed to be on the coaches’ good side last year. The Steelers figure to have potentially 11 good linemen on their hands in 2019 and could struggle to keep them all, though Morris, Prince, and Banner all remain eligible for the practice squad.