The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College, where they have held their training camp sessions since 1966. While the vast majority of the legwork of building the 90-man roster is done, there is always some fine tinkering to do. Now it’s time to figure out who is worthy of a roster spot, and what their role will be.
The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they’re bound to have new starters.
How will those position groups sort themselves out? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in practice? Who is sitting out due to injury?
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: How safe is the assumption that the Steelers will keep nine offensive linemen?
The Steelers certainly appear to have enough talent on their 91-man roster at the offensive line position to justify carrying at least nine of them on the 53. But sometimes you have more players at a position that you like than you can reasonably keep, given roster needs or wants at other positions.
The top seven of the offensive line has been set a long time ago, with five through seven being Matt Feiler (your presumed right tackle) in addition to Chukwuma Okorafor and B.J. Finney, both of whom have in-game starting experience.
Behind them are a number of interesting players, with third-year tackle Zach Banner and undrafted rookie Fred Johnson having appeared most to rise to the ranks of the rosterables over the course of the offseason. Banner, of course, already spent all of the 2018 season on the roster.
But both also have practice squad eligibility, and even if, for example, they lose out on Johnson somehow, there is still Patrick Morris, who was on the practice squad all of last year and is developing into a nice interior player this year. He has fallen a bit behind Morris, but J.C. Hassenauer, the best center in the AAF, has developmental potential as well.
Then you have to figure they want to try to keep Derwin Gray on the practice squad. They already have him playing every position but center. So at the very least, they have at least 10 linemen between the 53 and the practice squad worth keeping even if they lose the guy who would be their ninth if they only keep eight.
And that additional spot can be put to good use. It can be used to keep a fifth outside linebacker like Tuzar Skipper, or to acquire an outside tight end and allow you to carry four there. It could be used to carry five safeties, even if it takes one from the outside being brought in. Remember, the Steelers had 11 defensive backs all of last season, and they figure to use sub-packages just as much this year, so why think they’ll go with fewer? Marcus Allen might be the most vulnerable, but he showed some special teams capability in their last game, and also produced a forced fumble on defense.