CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The offseason, training camp and preseason are now officially in the books following the Steelers' 25-19 loss Thursday night to the Panthers here at Bank of America Stadium.
NFL teams must now trim their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. Some teams will begin that process Friday, sending out 'The Turk' to shatter some dreams.
That also means there will be a flood of free agents hitting the open market. So even after the Steelers trim their roster to 53 players on Saturday, that doesn't mean the roster is set. As we've seen in the past few years, the team could cut to 53 on Saturday, then add a veteran player or two on Sunday as it continues adjusting its roster.
But we won't deal with that here. Here, we're going to set a 53-man roster based on the players currently on the team's 90-man roster.
With that in mind, let's get to it.
Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
Devlin Hodges is a nice story. He's a fun story. But he also not only went undrafted, he went unsigned in the days following the draft. He earned a spot in Steelers training camp based on a tryout at rookie camp. In other words, there are guys like him coming out of college every year. Now, he's been better than most of those guys, as his preseason would suggest. But he's not a better quarterback prospect than Rudolph or Dobbs. He just isn't. The Steelers believe in keeping three QBs on the roster and not trying to stash one on the practice squad that can be signed away, so there's that, as well. Mike Tomlin refused to announce anything after this game about who would be the No. 2. But it's got to be Rudolph, who finished the preseason 28 of 42 for 368 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the preseason.
Running backs (4): James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Roosevelt Nix (FB)
On Thursday night against the Panthers, Snell allayed some fears about his potential. Though he only had 12 yards on eight carries, some of that was because he got slammed early in the second half, losing five yards on his first two carries behind a makeshift line. He had four carries for 12 yards and two receptions for 23 in the first half. Trey Edmunds will likely head to the practice squad for the second consecutive season.
Wide receivers (6): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, Johnny Holton
Switzer and Holton make it over Eli Rogers and Tevin Jones. Switzer will be the return man and Holton has shown he can be a deep threat and has gotten over the fumbling issues that plagued him in previous stops (4 in 17 career touches). Holton had three catches for 86 yards and a score in this game and also had a special teams assist. That might be enough. The Steelers might have been tempted to go with five players at this position had Johnson stayed healthy in the preseason.
Tight ends (3): Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
This is a spot that could easily change on Sunday once the smoke clears from the rest of the league's cuts. Or, the Steelers could ship out a draft pick to acquire a veteran at the position to serve as a 2/3. But the Steelers will roll the dice that they'll be able to get Kevin Rader through waivers and onto the practice squad and keep Gentry -- at least for now.
Offensive line (9): Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner, Fred Johnson
This is the deepest and most talented group on the team. Finney, Okorafor and Banner all could be starters on about half the teams in the league -- or at least the bottom third. And Johnson has been promising enough as an undrafted rookie that he should be kept around. Seventh-round pick Derwin Gray likely heads to the practice squad, while Patrick Morris could wind up there again, as the third center.
Defensive line (6): Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs
Like the offensive line, this is a nice group in terms of overall talent, headlined by the three starters. The depth, however, isn't quite as good as the offensive line. Alualu will back up both end spots and Hargrave will see more snaps in the nickel and dime packages as an interior pass rusher. McCullers makes it as the backup nose tackle, while Buggs has shown enough as a prospect to be No. 6.
Linebackers (9): T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Mark Barron, Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Anthony Chickillo, Ola Adeniyi, Tyler Matakevich, Tuzar Skipper
This was a tough call keeping Skipper over Gilbert, but chances are Gilbert makes it through to the practice squad, while there was no way Skipper, who recorded two sacks to go along with a couple of special teams tackles against the Panthers, would make it. Skipper had five sacks in the preseason. Sure, it was working against guys who will be on to their life's work next week, but five sacks are five sacks. And with Adeniyi likely sidelined for the opener because of a minor knee surgery, the Steelers could use the extra outside linebacker. And no, Chickillo and Matakevich, who were first and second in special teams snaps played a year ago, aren't going to be cut.
Cornerbacks (6): Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, Mike Hilton
Six corners is a tough call, but Sutton and Hilton both have the ability to play safety, as well, which helps out at that spot. Burns will be the top backup on the outside, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Steelers shopped him Friday and Saturday to a team that needs help at the position. He could have some value there to at least bring back a draft pick in return. Layne likely won't see any action as a rookie, but he's promising.
Safety (4): Terrell Edmunds, Sean Davis, Kameron Kelly, Jordan Dangerfield
All four of these guys should be active on game days and be regular contributors, either in the defense or on special teams. Marcus Allen, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick, probably goes to the practice squad, though he could be bumped for P.J. Locke.
Specialists (3): Chris Boswell (PK), Jordan Berry (P), Kameron Canaday (LS)
No changes here from the previous season. Boswell has shown enough in the preseason to make the team believe he'll bounce back from a disastrous 2018 season. Berry's not the best punter in the NFL, but he's good at what the Steelers ask him to do -- kick directionally and down the ball inside the opposing 20.
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