Steelers, Youth Movements, 53-Man Rosters, and 2010

I don’t usually pay attention to training camp roster battles. I’m interested, sure, I just never followed it with the passion of a political geek counting electoral votes, or worse, a football geek perpetually stuck in mental mock drafts from January till late April. (I would know nothing about that.)

But this year is different. For the first time in a long time, the Steelers have a bunch of young talented players who appear ready to contribute this season instead of a couple years down the road. It’s refreshing in the sense that, as fans, we have a tough time waiting for anything. There have been exceptions in the past: Marvel Smith in 2000, Kendrell Bell in ’01, Ben Roethlisberger in ’04, Heath Miller in ’05, and Mike Wallace last season.

But in terms of quantity, the 2010 class has a chance to substantially lower the team’s median age and help on the field immediately. One problem: based on which projected 53-man roster you’re looking at, experience might trump youth because, well, experience is a lot more reliable than youth, and coaches are notoriously risk averse.

And I get that; it’s one thing to get beat deep because Tyrone Carter was in the right position but physically unable to make a play. It’s something else entirely to have a young player blow a coverage and give up an easy touchdown. (I would make the obvious “Anthony Smith against the Pats in 2007, for example” reference here but Smith hurts my argument for young players, not helps it. Soooo, moving on…) Over the course of a season you’d expect the former to happen less than the latter. Maybe. Maybe not.

Whatever, this time around I’m all for a Steelers youth movement, even if that means some on-the-job growing pains. Partly because I think some of these young players are deserving, but also because I’m all for getting rid of old-timers taking up roster spots because that’s what they’ve always done. (And I’m not talking about guys like Larry Foote who, despite his detractors, is still a solid contributor, even if it’s now as a backup.)

I think Ted’s take on the 53-man roster (dated Aug. 17) is a good starting place. A few tweaks given the Giants game and thinking more about the regular season:

1. It might be an overreaction and that’s fine, but for the first time, well, ever Kraig Urbik looked like something other than a chubby mannequin decked out in a Steelers uni in Saturday’s preseason get-together. I don’t know if it’s enough to merit a roster spot but if nothing else it gives Pittsburgh options heading into the final two preseason games. So while we wait for that, it seems that Tony Hills — also previously best known for looking like a blocking dummy — will make the team. That would have been bad news as recently as early August; now the former fourth-rounder adds quality depth and I’ve even heard some people suggest that if Flozell gets the ax (not a proponent of that, by the way), Hills — not Jonathan Scott — should start at right tackle (not a proponent of that, either).

I mention both these players because Ted had them getting cut in last week’s projections (although he’s since come around on that). But after watching Maurkice Pouncey dominate people for two games, I’m all about giving Justin Hartwig his walking papers and making room for Hills. Legursky could backup Pouncey, add depth at guard, and as Wex points out, play fullback in goal line situations.

2. I wrote yesterday that Ed Bouchette heard that Antonio Brown has struggled to run proper routes and could be in danger of getting cut. While I believe that Brown might have trouble with the playbook, there’s just no way he gets cut. At least there shouldn’t be. If given the choice, I’d rather have Brown running his own version of the route tree and making a play than Limas Sweed running precision patterns and dropping easy touchdowns against the Bengals that I am in no way still bitter about. Limas has lasted two-plus years — I can’t imagine Brown that doesn’t make it through the summer.

So I’m working from the premise that Brown’s on the team, even if that means primarily in a special teams role in 2010. Unfortunately, that spells the end to the Stefan Logan era, and it’s not completely his doing. I thought he played well a year ago and he’s basically done the same this preseason. The problem, however, is that he’s a man without a position, and on a team with a lot of young, versatile players, that doesn’t help his cause.

(Of course, I’m all for getting Logan more involved in the offense, even if it’s on slip screens or — god forbid — Arians end-arounds. But all else equal, Brown is younger and has more upside, so he’d still be my choice.)

3. In Sunday’s Beaver County Times, Mike Bires took a crack at his final 53. Like mock drafts, these things are the bar room equivalent of playing darts in the dark after 12 beers. I get that. Nonetheless, this troubles me:

Last year, the Steelers kept eight linebackers. That will probably be the case again this year. And from all indications, seven of those spots are all but locks. James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox are set at the inside. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and rookie Jason Worilds, a second-round pick, are on the outside. That means the last spot could come down to either rookie Thaddeus Gibson or third-year pro Patrick Bailey, who’s Woodley’s backup.

Um, no. Word on the street is that Gibson has outplayed Worilds during training camp. And while I fully support special teams, I’m willing to sacrifice Patrick Bailey for Stevenson Sylvester, who has shown skills at inside linebacker and seems like a natural (better-than-Bailey?) fit for teams.

4. Perhaps this has less to do with the player making the team than the one possibly getting cut but either way, here goes: I’m pro-Anthony Madison, mostly for his special teams skills, but also because he can in the secondary — nickel back, specifically — in a pinch. I’d have him on the final roster, which works in this scenario if the Steelers cut Crezdon Butler. But here’s a thought: instead of releasing Butler or (less likely) Joe Burnett or (not likely at all) Kennan Lewis, how about William Gay (possibly the least likely of the bunch)?

He’s been demoted to nickel back after no-showing for most of 2009, but he’s not a must-have on special teams and he’s not particularly adept at covering people, either. He’s the perfect example of an experienced player knowing his responsibilities, just not being able to physically make plays.

Cut Gay, keep Madison and Butler, and meanwhile, let Burnett play nickel. I can’t imagine it could be any worse than what Gay subjected us to last season. And who knows, maybe the Ravens will sign Gay. Everybody wins.

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  • Randy Steele

    Geez… I can’t believe it. I completely agree with everything Ryan has said!

    Especially cutting William Gay, whom was criticized during the Giants game by, I think, Tunch Ilkin for not controlling his lanes, which led to two of the Giants’ biggest offensive plays.

    And speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s mine: the Steelers’ coaches planted the story with Bouchette about Brown’s inability to bicycle his paper route properly. Why? To try to force him to focus better on the playbook. But I can’t believe he doesn’t make this team.

    Lastly, Wex sez Sly is a lock. Hope he’s right.

  • Bigswa

    If you cut Gay, who plays the nickel corner? I would rather have a veteran at the Nickie position and as the 1st CB to play if Ike or McFadden get hurt. I think they could put Butler on the practice squad and he would clear waivers.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    Bigswa,

    Let Burnett play nickel. Lewis apparently doesn’t have the build to play inside, but Burnett sure does. And Randy, I think you’re right about the Eddie B. conspiracy theory. I just can’t imagine cutting Brown for, well, making rookie mistakes.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    I am with you, this could represent the higher risk of any of the moves proposed in the article. I’d rather gamble on Buttler clearing waivers than starting the year with a very, very raw corner in the nickel package. Gay could not be worst than last year. For the rest of them, I am in fully agreement, as a matter of fact, I should throw into the WR bubble Battle and ARE, they could be very expendable if the young guns keep on improving.

  • Bigswa

    There going to keep Gay. He’s not getting cut. He just didn’t play to the level they thought, but he’s still better than an unproven second year guy who has played limited snaps.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    I agree that Gay won’t get cut (even if I think he should if it’s down to him and Butler), although I don’t know that he’s better than an unproven second year guy.

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