The Pittsburgh Steelers head into their final exhibition game tomorrow night in Carolina looking to move past a preseason that clearly did not go as well as the team would have wanted. Injuries, question marks and the occasional unwelcome distraction marred the weeks leading up to final cutdown to the 53-man roster expected to be set later this weekend.
The good news is the team is ready to move past a mostly dreadful camp and focus on their opening game of the season against the Washington Redskins Sept. 12.
With the Steelers set to face the Panthers tomorrow night in a game devoid of regular season starters, the team will instead look at a handful of players fighting for a roster spot or practice squad invite.
Although it’s fair to assume the vast majority of the roster is set at this point, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing questions yet to be answered over the next several days.
Here’s some potential storylines to keep an eye on tomorrow night and the rest of the week before the final roster takes shape.
Decisions to make at Quarterback – We do know that Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones are obviously set to make the roster. Expect the Steelers to settle on Jones as the backup this season for better or worse in no small part because there are simply no viable options outside of the organization to supplant Jones. The team values Jones experience in the system, and that simply can’t be overlooked.
It’s what happens beyond Roethlisberger and Jones that will be interesting. The team has been mum on the status of Bruce Gradkowski after a hamstring injury has kept him out. It’s possible the team is holding out hope the oft-injured veteran will be healthy enough to be the third QB. If not, the only other QB on the roster is recently added journeyman Bryn Renner, who the team may not want to keep in the role. They may scour the waiver wire for options, but either way, this is worth keeping an eye on.
Several young players fighting for a job – One of my sleepers of this year’s draft class was linebacker Tyler Matakevich, and it looks like the seventh rounder from Temple might just sneak on to the roster. Unlike a few other players in his draft class, Matakevich will likely be lost if the team tries to stash him on their practice squad.
If Matakevich does make the cut, veteran Steven Johnson, who has had a very strong camp, might be out of the mix. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers try to get a late-round pick for Johnson before it’s all said and done. He’s a quality player that a number of teams would be interested in.
Two fellow rookies seem to be on their way to the practice squad. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers has not dazzled enough in camp to supplant Eli Rogers for the fifth WR spot and linebacker Travis Feeney has battled injuries and looks like a stash and develop player.
A number of players need to impress tomorrow – One of the more interesting free agents in camp is safety Jordan Dangerfield. This is his third camp with the Steelers, and he’s made the most of it. A hard hitter who has taken advantage of his time in the system, Dangerfield might be a long shot to make the roster, but I would not be shocked if he snuck in.
Tight end Xavier Grimble has been a hot-button topic throughout camp, and his status is even a bigger question now that Ladarius Green will miss at least the first six games of the season after being placed on the PUP list. Will the team hand him a valuable 53-man roster position knowing he’s still very much a work in progress?
It’s likely that running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Daryl Richardson will make the opening roster, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to impress. That’s because once Le’Veon Bell returns after Week 3, they will likely have to make a decision on keeping one or the other.
It’s also worth noting that troubled running back Karlos Williams, recently cut by the Buffalo Bills and serving a four-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, could very well be on the Steelers radar. Williams is incredibly talented and is the younger brother of Steelers linebacker Vince Williams. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers keep tabs on him in the coming weeks in the hopes of signing him as a possible long-term replacement to veteran DeAngelo Williams.