By Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
August 22, 2011
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands the ball off to teammate Rashard Mendenhall(notes) #34 during the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on August 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
With the season opener just 20 days away, the Steelers continue the process of putting together a team they expect will contend for the Super Bowl.
As of now, there are still 90 players on their roster. Fifteen must go by Aug. 30. Then on Sept. 3, coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert must decide which 53 they'll start the year with.
As the Steelers begin preparations for Saturday's third preseason game -- they host the Falcons on Saturday -- here's a look at some of their issues position-by-position:
No team has a collection of QBs as talented as the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is a legitimate star with three Super Bowl appearances, and he's only 29. Backup Byron Leftwich has had an excellent preseason and has 47 career starts in the league.
Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon are jockeying for the No. 3 job, and either way that competition turns out, it won't really matter as both are more than adequate to fill that role. Batch, 36, has 52 career starts. Dixon, a fourth-year pro, is 2-0 in games he started and finished, including a win in Baltimore two years ago.
With Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore set as the top three backs, the Steelers are set as well at running back. Jonathan Dwyer will no doubt make the team now that rookie seventh-round pick Baron Batch is done for the year with a knee injury.
Forget about John Clay. He may have rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons at Wisconsin and he may have been the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, but there are reasons he didn't get drafted. Namely, he's slow and he can't block. Maybe he makes the practice squad.
There is growing concern about second-year pro Emmanuel Sanders, who broke his right foot in the Super Bowl and then developed a stress fracture in his left foot during the off-season. Early in camp, he aggravated the injury in his left foot and hasn't practiced since.
Though the organization is excited about Sanders' potential -- he caught 28 passes last year during the regular season and five more in the playoffs -- the Steelers can only hope his foot problems aren't chronic.
The good news at wide receiver is that recent free-agent acquisition Jerricho Cotchery is a proven veteran play-maker.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who likes to use three-tight end packages, is trying to figure out who that third man will be behind starter Heath Miller and backup David Johnson.
The Steelers did sign 10th-year pro John Gilmore early in training camp. They're intrigued by the pass-catching potential of free agent Wesyle Saunders, who was ineligible to play his senior season at South Carolina. But the Steelers must not be impressed with their blocking ability. That's probably why they switched rookie free agent Miguel Chavis from defensive line to tight end. There are now seven tight ends on the roster.
Even before tackles Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert suffered hyper-extended knee injuries in Thursday's preseason game against the Eagles, there's been speculation that Flozell Adams may be re-signed. The injuries to Scott and Gilbert aren't thought to be serious. But don't be surprised if Adams, a salary cap cut on July 30, or another tackle is signed as insurance.
At right guard, it's starting to look like the Tony Hills experiment is working. He seems to be making a smooth transition from tackle and could be the opening-day starter.
It appears that the only roster battle is at backup nose tackle where Chris Hoke, the No. 2 man for several seasons, is trying to fight off the challenge of Steve McLendon.
Anthony Gray, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi, is an interesting study. He's only 5-foot-11 but he's 330 pounds and strong as a bull. He bench pressed 225 pounds 39 times during his pro day. Look for him to make the practice squad and challenge for a roster spot next year.
Also, don't be surprised if Ziggy Hood keeps the starting job at left defensive end, a job he inherited last year when Aaron Smith got hurt.
Will the Steelers keep eight or nine?
If it's eight, inside 'backer Monty Ivy will likely land on the practice squad. If it's nine, Ivy will probably make the team.
Rookie Chris Carter, a fifth-round draft pick, won't be cut. He has to put on some weight, but the Steelers like his explosiveness on the edges.
Due to injuries, cornerback is the position with the most question marks. No less than four corners missed the Eagles game (starters Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, second-year pro Crezdon Butler and rookie Cortez Allen).
It's too early to give up on third-year pro Keenan Lewis and Butler, who's in his second year. The Steelers drafted two corners this year: Curtis Brown in the third round and Allen in the fourth. While Brown is a keeper, Allen has been bothered by a hamstring pull for most of the preseason. He might be a candidate for the injured reserve list or practice squad.
The newcomer who should land a roster spot is Donovan Warren, a former Michigan star who went un-drafted in 2010. Warren, who signed with the Jets last year only to be cut and sitting out the entire season, has played very well so far for the Steelers this preseason.
The Steelers are set with Shaun Suisham as kicker and Greg Warren as long snapper. After re-signing unrestricted free agent Dan Sepulveda, it would appear that matters are settled at punter, too. But Jeremy Kapinos, who was signed last year when Sepulveda was hurt, is still on the roster.