The Pittsburgh Steelers played most of the 2020 season with seven defensive linemen on their 53-man roster, once Henry Mondeaux was called up from the practice squad after five games (aside from a brief stint on the Reserve/Injured List For Chris Wormley).
With the way the offseason has gone, there is no reason to think that the Steelers won’t continue to carry seven defensive linemen, or at least will want to. And while Mondeaux almost surely will be on the outside looking in this time, the fact that second-year Carlos Davis has been playing on special teams coverage throughout the preseason gives us a strong indication of this possibility.
The status of Stephon Tuitt is another major reason that we may see seven defensive linemen, at least on the initial 53-man roster, for Pittsburgh this year. While we know that he has been tending to family matter and his own mental health following the tragic death of his younger brother, a recent report by Gerry Dulac also suggested that he is dealing with an injury.
At the very least, even if we assume that they would put him on the Reserve/Injured List, Tuitt would have to be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return later this year (as early as three games). But I don’t think that will be necessary, given defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s own recent remarks, suggesting that he hoped Tuitt would practice next week.
Still, the sheer depth of the defensive line, paired with light positions elsewhere (i.e. the secondary), makes me believe we have a very good chance of seeing seven defensive linemen again this year, and last night’s game only helped that cause.
Isaiah Buggs has been the odd man out on most 53-man roster predictions, but he has had a really strong offseason overall, and has played well in the preseason. It would certainly be a shame if he were to miss the cut despite clearly deserving a spot.
But when you have Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Tyson Alualu at the top of your depth chart, followed by an improved Chris Wormley, Davis, and then rookie fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, it’s hard to see any of the missing the cut.
So, if you want to carry Buggs, you probably have to carry seven. They almost always carry six, but they almost never have a defensive lineman running down kicks. Mondeaux did that last year and they dressed six out of seven instead of five out of six. If Davis is their special teams lineman this year, that justifies the extra roster spot.
And so who loses out, as a result? Chances are, it’s either a linebacker or a defensive back. I’ve been projecting 10 linebackers, which is less common, so if you go by my own roster, you have to consider one of Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson, Cassius Marsh, or Jamir Jones (or Quincy Roche) expendable.