The Steelers have started the pre-season 0-2 with losses to both Minnesota and Jacksonville in the first two weeks of exhibition play. As far as wins and losses, it means absolutely nothing, as anyone knows, but two games into the pre-season, it’s time to start looking at how the depth charts will play out when camp breaks and the Steelers head to Foxborough, MA on September 10th to open up the regular season against the defending champion New England Patriots.
The offensive side of the ball appears to be the most talented and with a roster rich with super stars and pro bowl players, the Steelers will be nothing short of spectacular every Sunday afternoon. The battles are for reserve roles as the starters are entrenched.
Here’s a look at how the depth chart battle should play out as the pre-season progresses.
Currently, the black and gold have four quarterbacks on their roster, they’ll keep three. Obviously Big Ben Roethlisberger, the future Hall of Famer, is the starter and Bruce Gradkowski is the backup. The real battle is for that third and final spot between Landry Jones and Tajh Boyd.
Jones was drafted by the Steelers in the 4th round of 2013 and for that reason alone, has the edge. Many in the media have been quick to jump on Jones for his lack of development over his first few seasons in the league. Quite frankly, that notion is ridiculous. When has he really had the opportunity to play? When has he had a chance to “develop”? His first two seasons in the league, the man was holding a clip board, that was his job. Jones has talent, he was a great player at Oklahoma. Rookie Sammie Coates stated Jones “is a great player, he puts the ball where you can make a play. He’s got great confidence right now”.
Through two pre-season games, Jones has already recorded 98 passing attempts, indicative of the fact the Steelers want to know what they have with him. He’ll get a full look and in the end, he’ll be the third string guy again.
Tahj Boyd will press Jones and he possesses good talent but limited time in the league. At the end of the day, the Steelers will stay true to their 2013 draft day choice and Jones will be back on the roster in 2015.
Once again, the Steelers have a Super Star at the top of the board at this position with LeVeon Bell leading the way. Bell is arguably the best and most versatile running back in the league and he will be relied upon heavily throughout the season, once he returns from his suspension.
Behind him, newly signed DeAngelo Williams will make the squad and he’ll carry the load while Bell sits out. With those two as locks to make the squad, I believe there are two more open spots amongst a bevy of players vying to fill them. Dri Archer, Josh Harris, Braylon Heard, Jawon Chislom Ross Scheurman and Cameron Stingily will all fight for a spot on the team.
In the end, Harris and Archer will make the team and dress on Sundays. Harris played well in his time with the team last fall and into the playoffs and Archer was a high draft pick just one year ago. There’s no way the team will give up on him, even though they should.
Archer was an over reach on the part of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert and while they surely figured that out as last season progressed, their egos will not let them publicly admit that just one season later. Archer certainly possesses talent and his raw speed is something that cannot be coached, but his lack of physicality, his inability to advance the ball and frankly his obvious omission from the passing game last year makes you wonder why he’s in Pittsburgh at all?
That all said, the other guys on the roster aren’t showing enough and probably won’t be given an opportunity to do so to pass him on the depth chart.
Currently the team has two full backs on the roster. It’s quite frankly a formality; they will only keep one, which is Will Johnson. Johnson knows the offense, can block, can take a hand off or two when needed and has been with the team for a few seasons now. Roosevelt Nix is a ‘camp guy’ only and won’t be here come opening day.
Undoubtedly the deepest position on the roster is wide receiver. The team will most likely keep five active receivers on Sundays and probably have a swing man on the roster to be the sixth guy as well.
Antonio Brown is one of the best Wide Receivers in the NFL and will be the number one guy this season and for many years to come.
Right behind him, the number two spot will go to Martavis Bryant. Bryant turned in a huge rookie season in 2014 and is a great red zone target for Big Ben.
Markus Wheaton will slide into the third receiver position as the slot guy and so far through camp he’s proven he can go across the middle and make the necessary plays.
Sammie Coates, the 2015 third round selection will make the team as the fourth receiver on the depth chart but I believe he has a chance to get significant playing time and will be a red zone threat as well.
The final spot will be battled out between Darrius Heyward Bey, Tyler Murphy, Eli Rogers, CJ Goodwin and Shakim Phillips. Bey was a first round pick of the Oakland Raiders many moons ago and never lived up to the billing. The Steelers brought him in last season and he provided absolutely nothing, other than a body in practice. Many will tell you that he’ll be the 5th guy, I won’t. He’s not going to make the team.
CJ Goodwin is the guy to me that possesses the skills to be kept in the 5th spot with Tyler Murphy, the potential “slash” player as the swing man. “That kid is starting to show some wide out traits” Mike Tomlin said of Murphy during practice. “Write that down” Tomlin continued.
Everyone else falls short of making the team but will be used in pre-season to prevent the regulars from getting injured unnecessarily.
The Steelers will likely keep three guys at Tight End and once again they have one of the best in the business at the top of the order in Heath Miller. Miller is the consummate pro who does everything the right way, is all about the team and makes a play every time he’s called upon.
Behind him Matt Spaeth will be back as the 2nd tight end, mostly used for blocking. Jesse James, Rob Blanchflower and Cameron Clear will battle it out for the third and final spot. Clear has no chance, so let’s make that “Clear” right now.
Blanchflower was drafted last year and spent time on the practice squad and certainly has the leg up in that regard but James was drafted this year, is three inches taller and comes out of Penn State where he’s been prepped for this level. James has good hands and the ability to block.
Pre-season struggles aside; James is the guy and will be kept. Blanchflower could push James to the end but won’t be anything more than a practice guy once again.
Offensive line may be the most unglamorous position in all of sports but it may be the most important one as well. The O line protects the franchise (Big Ben), sets up the Super Star running back (Bell) and really determines just how successful the offense will be. Without a good line, the season is a struggle. The team has finally established a quality line but will need to keep seven or even eight guys in order to maintain health and consistent play.
The obvious keepers are pro bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, Guard David Decastro, Guard Ramon Foster, Tackle Marcus Gilbert and Tackle Kelvin Beachum. Those are your starters and that’s a pretty solid bunch.
With three spots open, a big question arises in regards to Mike Adams. The man has serious talent but so far his career in Pittsburgh is best known for getting stabbed on the south side late one night by one of Wiz Khalifa’s boys. I think he’ll be given one final shot but that’s going to be it for him.
Cody Wallace will make the team as he can swing from guard to center and his versatility is important and the last spot will go to Alejandro Villanueva, the rookie free agent from Army.
Left out will be Mitchel Van Dyik, Miles Dieffenbach, Kevin Palmer (who may push for the 8th spot) and Chris Hubbard.
Sifting through this offensive group it’s very clear; the team is loaded with shear talent at every position. There isn’t a reason why they can’t put up 30 points a game and make the opposition pay on a weekly basis.
Opening Day Starters:
QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: LeVeon Bell (Williams will start but Bell is the number one, just out due to suspension)
WR: Antonio Brown
WR: Martavis Bryant
TE: Heath Miller
FB: Will Johnson
LT: Kelvin Beachum
LG: Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey
RG: David Decastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com- Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.