The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers don’t have a ninth lineman that would compel them to carry on the 53-man roster.
Explanation: Most often, the Steelers do what they can to carry nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, even if the ninth lineman is an undrafted rookie like Fred Johnson. Injuries are usually what prevent them from doing so. This year, the overall depth has been tested, and practice squad expansion and protections arguably make it less necessary to stash a ninth lineman, who would not even dress, on the 53.
I’m not going to say that the Steelers don’t have depth beyond their core seven or so top linemen. I like guys like Derwin Gray and J.C. Hassenauer and believe that they are potentially rosterable players. And they can always add linemen. Right now, they have 14, and they usually try to have at least 15 in camp.
But they won’t even have enough opportunities to evaluate these players. How do you get a good feel for an offensive lineman through 14 padded practices and no preseason?
Beyond that, the NFL will allow teams 16 practice squad spots, which they can easily use to allocate two or more to offensive linemen. Teams may even activate practice squad players (limited to two games per player per season) to the gameday roster directly from the practice squad in the event of an injury, and they may also protect up to four of their players on the practice squad from poaching. These changes even make it less likely in future years as well that teams will carry nine offensive linemen.
It will be a challenge for the players on the bottom of the roster to prove that they deserve a roster spot. But one must understand that this applies to all position groups, so everybody on the fringes, competing for the last few roster spots, will be on equal footing, so a ninth lineman is just as likely as a sixth wide receiver or a fourth running back or a 10th linebacker or a sixth cornerback.
And I think one thing that we have learned over the past several years is that you never have enough linemen on hand. The Steelers had two linemen claimed off waivers last season, for example, and nothing in the rules has changed since last year that would have prevented those same scenarios from playing out again.