Steelers Ready to Go: Breaking Down the 53

steel​ers​.com Steelers Ready to Go: Breaking Down the 53
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The Steelers trimmed their roster to 53 by the Saturday deadline, and the acquisitions of cornerback Joe Haden and tight end Vance McDonald signal that this team is built to win now. Ben Roethlisberger has already mulled retirement once, James Harrison can only hold off retirement for so long, and Le’Veon Bell is, for all intents and purposes, a rental this year.

This is one of Pittsburgh’s most talented rosters on both sides of the ball, period. Let’s break down how the position battles played out before the week one tilt against the up-​and-​coming Cleveland Browns:


Ben Roethlisberger #7
Landry Jones #3
Josh Dobbs #5

No surprises here. Though neither looked quite “deserving” of a spot, rookie Josh Dobbs with his 4th round draft pedigree gets the nod over Bart Houston. Dobbs had a shaky preseason (I never thought I’d say: “Thank god Landry Jones is back”). Pittsburgh will be in for some rough games should Big Ben go down, but clearly Jones is still the best option. That said, a year to learn the system and a full season with the team could yield some big improvements for rookie Dobbs. He has his work cut out for him.

Running Back

Le’Veon Bell #26
James Conner #30
Terrell Watson #39
Roosevelt Nix #45 (Fullback)

After not so subtly suggesting it will cost $17 million a year to maintain his services, Bell returned to the team last week. There were few fringe players more deserving of a roster spot than Watson. He’s been a bit of a journeyman at his young age (this is his 5th organization in just over 2 years), but he ran hard for the Steelers all preseason and looked capable. Conner capitalized on his opportunities — clearly the organization thinks highly of him. Surprise cut: Fitzgerald Toussaint, who knows the playbook and at the very least is a strong choice for passing situations; he’s the obvious candidate to return at some point. Knile Davis, on the other hand, was not a surprise cut. He had his moments in the return game, but his rushing numbers were pedestrian. Look for him to reunite with Kansas City given their injury woes.

Wide Receiver

Antonio Brown #84
Martavis Bryant #10
Eli Rogers #17
Juju Smith-​Schuster #19
Darrius Heyward-​Bey #88
Justin Hunter #11

Brown, Bryant, Rogers, and Smith-​Schuster were the shoe-​ins. After a rough preseason, it seems as though Todd Haley will continue to dial up some long balls for Heyward-​Bey this year. Hunter’s talent continues to shine — if Pittsburgh’s renowned WR position coaching can help fulfil his potential, watch out. Pittsburgh traded Sammie Coates to the Cleveland Browns on Friday for virtually nothing, but I’m excited for him and his new opportunity nonetheless. There was just no room for the remaining bunch. Cobi Hamilton was an obvious cut but could draw interest elsewhere. I’d love to see Demarcus Ayers back with the squad at some point. Marcus Tucker continues to improve, but the roster’s just too crowded.

Tight End

Vance McDonald #89
Jesse James #81
Xavier Grimble #85

We knew the McDonald acquisition last week would complicate things, and it comes at the expense of Jake McGee and David Johnson. McGee had a strong offseason showing, and we could see him again. Keeping Grimble over David Johnson seems redundant given their skills and considering Johnson’s solid showing. Keep an eye out for how quickly McDonald integrates into the offense. Could this simply be a case of capitalizing on a good value (San Francisco was reportedly shopping McDonald during the draft), or has 3rd-​year Jesse James not progressed as much hoped?

Offensive Line

Maurkice Pouncey #53
David DeCastro #66
Alejandro Villanueva #78
Marcus Gilbert #77
Ramon Foster #73
B. J. Finney #67
Matt Feiler #71
Jerald Hawkins #65
Chris Hubbard #74

Ho hum: the Steelers get their core guys back and head into the year as one of the league’s top-​ranked units. Feiler is a surprise, but coaches must have thought his strong performance in the preseason finale Thursday warranted keeping him. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m optimistic to see what Hawkins contributes after spending his first season on injured reserve. Hubbard is back on a one-​year audition.

Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward #97
Stephon Tuitt #91
Javon Hargrave #79
Tyson Alualu #94
Daniel McCullers #93
Leterrius Walton #96

A healthy Heyward atop the depth chart is always good — it’s great having him back after losing him in November last year. Tuitt is a force and could reach new heights in his contract year. Combine that with improvements to “Gravedigger” Hargrave, and we could be lethal up front. I may be in the minority, but I’m pleased to have McCullers back to provide depth. He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done and is (mostly) reliable. And here’s to hoping we haven’t seen the last of hard-​working Johnny Maxey.


Ryan Shazier #50
Bud Dupree #48
Vince Williams #98
James Harrison #92
Arthur Moats #55
T. J. Watt #90
Anthony Chickillo #56
L.J. Fort #54
Tyler Matakevich #44

What a year this could be. Dupree flashed otherworldly talent last year, and any consistency will make him a household name. While the bar continues to be high for Shazier, I’m excited to see what Williams can do with his newly minted starting role. The immortal Harrison continues to keep Father Time in a chokehold turning 39 this season, and he has a nice tag-​team partner in Watt. After storming out of the gate for two sacks in his first preseason game, Watt has been relatively quiet. But we’ll be hearing his name a lot this year. One of my favorites, Moats is back in a contract year and should continue to complement the group nicely. Speaking of favorite: how could you part with a linebacker named Fort? He had a great preseason, particularly in coverage, and was able to capitalize on an injured Steven Johnson who was unable to play the final two preseason games. Tyler Matakevich continues to make the most of his opportunities, surviving two cuts after being taken in the 7th round last year.

Defensive Back

Artie Burns #25
Joe Haden #TBD
Sean Davis #28
Mike Mitchell #23
Jordan Dangerfield #37
William Gay #22
Robert Golden #21
Mike Hilton #40
Coty Sensabaugh #24
Cameron Sutton #20

I was not Ross Cockrell’s biggest fan but was surprised the Steelers traded him to the New York Giants on Saturday for a conditional pick. It couldn’t have been anticipated prior to the Haden acquisition. It makes sense, in theory; Cockrell’s not exactly a plug-​and-​play guy, but he’s only 26 and would have provided some depth — one poor preseason should not have sealed his fate. In more positive news, preseason sensation and fan favorite Hilton gets the nod. He was exciting, especially on a couple blitz opportunities. Questions remain about Mitchell’s health, and Dangerfield’s ankle injury in the finale is murky. Golden needs to improve —his showing against the Colts was forgettable. As for 2015 2nd-​round bust Senquez Golson: what more can you say? Three off seasons with absolutely nothing to show for it — draft capital will only take you so far.

Special teams

Jordan Berry #4
Chris Boswell #9
Kameron Canaday #46

Not much to discuss here. Oh wait… where, oh where is 6th-​round pick Colin Holba? The lone long snapper drafted in the 2017 draft, Holba was expected to take over for longtime Steeler Greg Warren. Instead, 2nd-​year Canaday will perform the duties. The waste of 6th-​round pick Holba was confusing enough at the time, but GM Kevin Colbert now owes Steeltown a jump into the Monongahela for this one. Meanwhile, Berry continues to try to make Brad Wing an afterthought, while Boswell enjoyed a perfect 7-​for-​7 kicking in the preseason. Speaking of perfection, after helping the Steelers to be one of five teams not to miss an extra point last year, let’s hope it’s out of Boswell’s system now after missing one this preseason from a bad snap — a parting gift from Holba.

Matthew John Milligan

Matthew John Milligan is a freelance writer living in Aspinwall.

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