Analyzing the Last In and Out (Part 1)

Yesterday, I broke down my current projected Steelers’ 53-man opening day roster, with many extras, including the last 14 to be cut and the last 14 to make the team.

Of course, we have only had one preseason game. These next three preseason games and three weeks of practices could make or break the roster chances for most of these men.

On that note, today and tomorrow we will break down why the top seven players on each of those lists could make the team and why they may not, starting with the last seven currently projected to make the opening-day 53-man roster. Here again were the lists, although please remember they remain cut and keep lists in constant flux:

Last 14 Released From Camp (in order of how close they are to making team and their position matters): 1. QB Charlie Batch, 2. RB Jonathan Dwyer, 3. OT Tony Hills, 4. FB/TE Sean McHugh, 5. RET Stefan Logan, 6. OG Kraig Urbik, 7. CB/ST Anthony Madison,  8. OG Dorian Brooks, 9. DE Doug Worthington, 10. OL Adrian Jones, 11. FB/RB Dwayne Wright, 12. LB/ST Renauld Williams, 13. WR Tyler Grisham, 14. OLB/ST Patrick Bailey

Last 14 To Make the Team (in order of likelihood of being cut and their position matters): 1. DE Sunny Harris, 2. DE Nick Eason, 3. FB/TB Frank Summers, 4. OT Jonathan Scott, 5. RB Isaac Redman, 6. ILB Stevenson Sylvester, 7. CB Crezdon Butler, 8. CB Joe Burnett, 9. C Justin Hartwig, 10. WR Antonio Brown, 11. TE/FB D.J. Johnson, 12. WR Antwaan Randle El, 13. ILB Keyaron Fox, 14. S Ryan Mundy

1. DE SUNNY HARRIS

Why he will make the team: Harris has now had two solid training camps in his two seasons with Pittsburgh. Five of the Steelers’ top six defensive linemen are 30 or older, and the team has to start a youth movement at some point up front, right? Harris is only getting better and has major upside as a 3-4 end. Plus, he is the most athletically gifted among the three defensive linemen fighting for 1-2 roster spots.

Why he will not make the team: Pittsburgh veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach John Mitchell are both far more comfortable with more experienced players. They kept Nick Eason over Harris in 2009, even though Harris had more talent and had a better camp. Eason responded with the best season of his career. Even if Harris makes the 53-man roster, his stay may not be long when the Steelers likely resign QB Charlie Batch.

2. DE NICK EASON

Why he will make the team: Eason, mostly a journeyman since entering the NFL in 2003, had the best season of his career in 2009, playing solid against the run after the Steelers lost standout Aaron Smith to injury. Pittsburgh resigned him for 2010 and its staff likes solid, experienced veterans like Eason. Pittsburgh may be able to keep seven defensive linemen this fall, as opposed to six last season.

Why he will not make the team: Eason is fighting youngsters Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington for one or at most two roster spots. Eason is one of five defensive linemen over 30 on the Steelers’ roster and his age may work against him. Plus, the emergence of Ziggy Hood as a dominant No. 3 defensive end means Pittsburgh can take more of a chance with other reserve defensive linemen.

3. FB/TB FRANK SUMMERS

Why he will make the team: Summers was the first-team fullback in the first preseason game, a position Pittsburgh may employ more often this fall due to a stronger emphasis on the run game. He also provides a short-yardage option at tailback, although the Steelers’ staff seems reluctant to use him in this spot. Summers is likely battling Sean McHugh and Jonathan Dwyer for a roster spot, and is younger and more talented than McHugh, and far more versatile than Dwyer, who cannot play special teams and has not lined up yet at fullback for Pittsburgh.

Why he will not make the team: Summers is by no means an NFL-level, lead-blocking fullback, a position rarely utilized by Steelers’ offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Summers played poorly at fullback early in 2009 when he was kept on the roster more for potential than preseason production and was awful on special teams before being placed on IR for a mysterious injury. He can line up at several spots, but can he play any of them well?

4. OT JONATHAN SCOTT

Why he will make the team: Pittsburgh usually keeps at least nine offensive linemen and the list of competitors for the ninth spot this year (Scott, Tony Hills, Kraig Urbik, Dorian Brooks, Adrian Jones) is not overly impressive. Moreover, Scott has the most experience of that group, starting eight games for Buffalo last season. He also has experience playing both tackle spots and it is even more important that the ninth offensive lineman be a tackle with Trai Essek now apparently staying in the starting lineup at right guard.

Why he will not make the team: Scott is not very good. He has been unimpressive in camp thus far (although he did look decent in preseason game No. 1) and his starting last year in Buffalo was more due to injuries and a porous Bills’ offensive line than Scott’s talent. Tony Hills also played well against the Lions on Saturday, and Hills is more athletic than Scott. Hills, thus has better potential as a pass blocker against speed rushers, is a more natural left tackle and may be more valuable to the team than Scott if Flozell Adams continues to struggle in pass protection at right tackle.

5. RB ISAAC REDMAN

Why he will make the team: Ed Bouchette declared Redman a 100% lock to make the roster Tuesday during his weekly chat. Redman has been very good this preseason, and is faster, stronger and more experienced than last preseason when he was also impressive. He rushed for a team-high 60 yards against the Lions, looks like the answer to the Steelers’ short-yardage woes and has received a few snaps at fullback, which adds to his versatility.

Why he will not make the team: Nearly all of the above were true last preseason as well, and Redman was still cut, spending the majority of the fall on the Steelers’ practice squad. Moreover, he does not offer as much versatility as FB/TB Frank Summers or TE/FB Sean McHugh, has not shown skills to aid special teams (usually a must for a No. 3 running back on any NFL team) and probably does not have as much pure talent as rookie TB Jonathan Dwyer. Finally, it is impossible to tell if Bouchette was being sarcastic with his prediction, which happens about 60% of the time in his chat transcripts, higher if did not have his coffee.

6. ILB STEVENSON SYLVESTER

Why he will make the team: Sylvester, a fifth-round pick, has been a training-camp standout thus far, culminated by a solid performance in the Steelers’ first preseason game. Three of the Steelers’ top four inside linebackers (James Farrior, Larry Foote, Keyaron Fox) have a combined 27 years of NFL experience. Thus, the Steelers have to start grooming a young inside linebacker. Sylvester also excelled in special-teams coverage in college.

Why he will not make the team: Sylvester does seem likely to make the squad at this point, but numbers will be tight this fall and Pittsburgh may feel it can sneak Sylvester back onto the practice squad. He was an unheralded fifth-round pick and inside linebackers are generally not coveted on the waiver wire. Sylvester will likely be the No. 5 inside linebacker, a position where the Steelers almost never keep five players since they play only one inside backer on passing downs.

7. CB CREZDON BUTLER

Why he will make the team: Butler was a stud in OTAs, has good size (6-1, 191), speed (4.4 in the 40-yard-dash) and possibly starting potential down the road. His size also makes him a possibility at safety in dime packages in the future. After he was selected in the sixth round, many thought Butler was bound for the practice squad. However, after a strong preseason, the Steelers are justifiably afraid that Butler would not clear waivers.

Why he will not make the team: Butler is currently the No. 6 CB behind four roster locks in Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay and Keenan Lewis, as well as second-year Joe Burnett, who appears to be a more natural fit as a slot corner and adds potential value as a return specialist. That list does not include veteran CB Anthony Madison, who Steeler coaches may be compelled to keep on the roster due to his immense value on special teams. If so, they may gamble in cutting Butler, with the hope of resigning him to the practice squad.

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  • RoB D

    Terrific breakdown, Ted. I was mulling over a few of these in my mind but your thoughts are very helpful in trying to figure out roster spots. I hope the Steelers start taking the younger guys over the older vets if there isn’t much to choose between them. Quality guys like Sunny Harris can play in this league. And for all the roster flexibility (especially being able to play ST”s) it didn’t do them much good on the return teams last year..hee hee. If a guy like Redman can fulfill the short yardage role…It’s important enough I believe that he should earn his way onto the team someway. somehow.

    Crezdon has looked really good. But then again, so many of this year’s draft have looked very good. Might end up being one of the best overall drafts in the Colbert era. OK, it’s too early to say that but I am very pleased so far.

  • Ted

    Good points, Rob, and I agree. But the Steelers did not emphasize special teams in their 2009 roster, cutting Madison and stashing McHugh on IR. They ended up regretting such moves.

  • Randy Steele

    I often thought last year that Nick Eason wasn’t appreciated for the solid job he did subbing for Aaron Smith, but that said, I think the Steelers this season will be less concerned about having a veteran presence at every back-up position on the team.

    The front office may well decide that this is the time to take a chance and get younger. If true, that’s bad news for Eason but good news for Sunny Harris. I think most of us would be okay with that, though.

    As much as I have disliked Jonathan Scott’s performance during training camp, I regret to predict that he’ll be kept and Tony Hills and Kraig Urbek will get totally Turked. Despite the recent hype, Hills didn’t play that great during the Lions game. These guys had their chance and have shown too little, too late.

    Dorian Brooks will head for the practice squad. And Adrian Jones? Would someone tell me again who he is?

    Ed Bouchette is right about one thing: Redman makes this team easily. Unfortunately Jonathan Dwyer’s performance during training camp, combined with his injuries and weight issues have made him a fat, easy target. Maybe he’s on the PS. Maybe not.

    I don’t know what to think of Frank Summers. As Mr. Kian aptly wonders, “he can line up in several spots, but can he play any of them well?” At this point I’d say, not well enough.

    Right now I’d rather have a proven versatile player such as Sean McHugh on the team rather than Summers. But there’s still a lot of pre-season left. We’ll see.

    I’m not sure the Steelers will make a final choice will be between Madison and Butler. Instead it may be between Madison and Sylvestor because, as Mr. Kian noted, rookie ILBs are relatively common and easier to waive and then hide on the practice squad.

    Or the debate might be between Joe Burnett and Butler. I’m also not sure why Burnett isn’t more on the bubble unless he’s being kept around for his punt return skills, which doesn’t do much to ease our collective blood pressure.

    Right now I’d bet that if they were to try to waive Butler the Steelers would lose him. There’s too much hunger for relatively big fast CBs in this league, even raw ones.

  • Ted

    Good points as usual, Randy. But after watching the replay of the Lions game again tonight, I can’t see anyway the coaching staff cuts Butler. He looks very, very good, with size, speed and moxie.

    I, too, like McHugh more than Summers. But the staff seems to be leaning toward Summers based on PT.