Heitritter: Key Takeaways From Steelers Initial Roster

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimmed the roster down to the league-mandated 53 players on Tuesday afternoon, making several cuts over the last couple of days to get in compliance with the expected roster size of each NFL team. Several of the transitions were as expected, but a few others came as a little bit of a surprise to fans and media alike. I will be recapping some of the more notable moves made on Tuesday and what that may mean for Pittsburgh moving forward.

Pittsburgh Decides to Keep Eight Defensive Linemen

The Steelers have been known to normally keep six defensive linemen on the active roster. As Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora pointed out last week on the Terrible Podcast, the last time Pittsburgh retained over six on the roster was back in 2013. I took a shot in my roster prediction saying that Pittsburgh would elect to keep seven defensive linemen this year due to the talent at the position as well as the uncertainty around DE Stephon Tuitt’s status moving forward into the regular season. It appears that Pittsburgh elected to raise me on this one, keeping eight along the defensive line for their initial 53-man roster.

This likely means that Pittsburgh also recognized the talent in the position group and didn’t want to subject any of Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis, or Henry Mondeaux to waivers for fear they may get claimed. This also likely indicates that there indeed is something wrong with Tuitt, as it was reported late Tuesday that he is in-fact dealing with a knee issue and could be put on short-term IR to begin the season as he works himself back in shape after missing the entire preseason. Should Tuitt be cleared to play, we may likely see Buggs or Mondeaux get their walking papers and hopefully revert to the practice squad. Either way, it looks like Pittsburgh isn’t taking any chances in releasing one of their key reserves.

B.J. Finney and Rashaad Coward Both get the Boot

It was often debated that the team would decide to keep either Finney or Coward as the team’s ninth offensive lineman of the 53-man roster. However, GM Kevin Colbert pulled his best Lee Corso impression saying, “Not so fast” and released both interior offensive linemen. This leaves the OL room pretty thin given that OT Zach Banner still hasn’t been allowed to play full snaps coming off of ACL surgery and Kendrick Green and J.C. Hassenauer are primarily center types, leaving a glaring hole for a true backup guard on the roster.

Now, we can expect one of two things as we sit here today. First, that Pittsburgh will be combing through the waiver wire or look to sign a recently released free agent that may be a higher-caliber player than either Finney or Coward to provide depth. Second, the team released both blockers with the intention to re-sign one of them pending the situation with Tuitt, having confidence they will be able to get either back over risking one of their defensive linemen to being claimed by outside organizations. Either way, we can expect one more body to be added before the start of the season, either by way of an outside acquisition or by bringing back a familiar face.

Pittsburgh Keeps Four Corners

The goal is to keep your best players, right? Well, that is exactly what Pittsburgh did in the case of the defensive backs, giving multiple guys the axe and trimming down the group to four cornerbacks and four safeties, respectively. The release of Arthur Maulet likely means that his ankle injury suffered a week ago was of enough severity that he wouldn’t be able to contribute right away at the start of the season. Now, Pittsburgh may elect to play S Tre Norwood more at nickel corner for depth purposes, but the team has basically pigeon-holed themselves to play Cam Sutton in the slot on nickel and dime with James Pierre playing on the outside opposite Joe Haden.

This is what we have expected to be the case for weeks now, but Pittsburgh only has Justin Layne as depth behind their top three guys and relying on Norwood to man the nickel should Sutton go down would not be ideal to say the least. Pittsburgh almost definitely will be looking to add another defensive back in the coming days. While initially the thought was that they would add a backup safety type, I would imagine that a nickel/dime defender would be more of a priority that possibly can play some safety but is more natural lining up inside the slot and covering slot receivers and tight ends detached from the line of scrimmage.

Pittsburgh Elects to Retain Ulysees Gilbert III

Remember what I said earlier about the importance about keeping your best guys on the roster? Well, this move left me scratching my head. I thought Gilbert had a lot of talent and ability coming into 2021 but needed to stay healthy to showcase what he can do. Needless to say, Gilbert did stay on the field, but his play didn’t inspire any confidence as a player that should be rolled out there should Devin Bush or Joe Schobert go down. UG3 struggled with tackling this preseason, constantly missing ball carriers in the open field and having runners break through his grasp when he made contact. He also didn’t excel in pass coverage, looking lost at times out there despite his superior athletic profile.

UG3 may have been kept for special teams’ purposes, but event then the team has Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, and Marcus Allen playing a similar role that he does. The only reason I can think of why UG3 was retained was the fact that Marcus Allen suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers and should look to be insurance if Allen were to miss any time. I would imagine that once Allen is good to go or that when Pittsburgh finds an outside free agent they want to add, UG3 may be the first man on the initial 53-man roster to get his walking papers.

What are your thoughts on the initial Steelers 53-man roster? What moves surprised you? Do you agree with some of my takes on a few of the surprising moves the Steelers made and what may be coming next? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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