Steelers Final 53: Still Not Much to Complain About

Cut day is a weird thing. It’s a distant cousin of the April draft in that personnel decisions are made 5-10 players at a time, but it comes without the production value. It’s also a week before the season, which means that, in general, the final 53-man roster choices will have a more meaningful impact on the roster than most of what happens during the draft.

Or maybe not.

JJ wrote Saturday, shortly before we learned the fate of Tony Hills, Crezdon Butler, Jason Kapinos, John Gilmore and Jarrett Crittenton, that when it comes down to it, the players the Steelers cut don’t go on to have spectacular NFL careers.

Still, I was shocked by the news that Hills and Butler got the axe, albeit for completely different reasons.

Hills spent the previous three seasons milling about the sidelines on game days, his outfit alternating between shorts and sweats depending on the weather. The few times that he got on the field in 2010 were more unforgettable than inspirational. In fact, most folks fully expected Hills to get cut last year at this time (He made it over Kraig Urbik). Instead, he stuck around, and this training camp, after seeing enough of Ramon Foster, the coaches moved Hills from his left tight end position (let’s be honest, it’s an affront to left tackles everywhere to suggest he was actually playing that position the past three seasons) to right guard. Everyone — coaches, players, media, fans — seemed happy about Hills’ preseason start and JJ talked about how his athleticism and ability to get to the second level made him a more attractive option than Foster.

Turns out, the only constant is keeping Foster out of the lineup. Because Legursky got the start at right guard in the final preseason game, Trai Essex was signed off the La-Z-Boy to play all five positions (he started at center against Carolina), and Hills is now out of a job.

It’s surprising only because a) it didn’t happen last year, and b) the team seemed quite pleased with Hills at right guard just a few weeks ago. But if you can’t beat out Essex, a guy not in the Steelers’ plans until the middle of August, you probably don’t deserve a spot on the roster.

Crezdon’s a different story and it had nothing to do with the pick-six against the Falcons’ backups two weeks ago (although it was certainly nice to see a cornerback actually catch a pass) and everything to do with potential.

It’s a word we throw around willy-nilly, especially when talking about young players, rough around the edges, but with enough talent to give us hope that they might become the next Ike Taylor or Willie Parker or, hell, Doug Legursky. Plus, Ike made some comments last week (that, inexplicably, I now can’t find on the google tubes) about how Butler is always making plays in practice.

But as Wex tweeted after the final cuts were announced, Butler was caught up in an numbers game and he lost, at least for now. (There’s an argument that Donovan Warren outplayed Butler in the preseason and was more deserving of a roster spot. From what I can gather, Warren is considered slow and strictly a zone corner. There are worse fates, but he was in the first wave of cuts last week, which seems like a clear indication of what Pittsburgh thought about his long-term prospects.)

We discussed on a recent podcast the idea that Cortez Allen might be IRed, which would’ve allowed the team to keep Butler. Allen didn’t look overwhelmed in his first game action last Thursday against the Panthers, but he was facing fourth-teamers on a squad that won twice last year. Now the question is if he’ll be able to contribute during the regular season. There’s virtually no way he gets a hat on game day, right? Then again, a year ago, Butler spent most Sundays in his civvies, too.

One roster move that has me wholly excited: Weslye Saunders. He didn’t play last year at South Carolina because of dreaded off-field concerns (it’s cliched AND contagious!), and seemed like as long a shot as anybody to make the Steelers roster since rookies had neither minicamps nor OTAs to prepare for the regular season.

I’ll admit that I had very low expectations for Saunders, primarily because those heady Matt Kranchick days had since suppressed my enthusiasm for high-upside guys. But watching Saunders in preseason, especially his touchdown grab in traffic against Carolina last week, gave me hope that Pittsburgh could’ve unearthed another weapon for Big Ben (who, with some work, might not be a half-bad blocker, either). Of course, it’s early in the roster-assembling process and Saunders is probably No. 53 on the 53-man roster; his employment status is more tenuous than any of his teammates, but if he sticks he could be special. (I know this violates JJ’s previous post but I’m willing to make an exception in this case.)

Last year at this time I wrote that there wasn’t much to bellyache about with the final roster cuts, and I feel similarly now. I also listed all the Steelers’ drafts from 2002 (before the ’10 class, it was the last time the team kept so many rookies) to the present. Figure I might as well update the list here. You’re welcome.

2002: Kendall Simmons, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Larry Foote, Verron Haynes, Lee Mays and Brett Keisel made the roster. Simmons started as a rookie and could still be playing (and playing well) if not for blowing out his knee and suffering from adult-onset diabetes. Foote and Keisel are still with the team, ARE was serviceable during his first contract and Chris Hope was a big part of the secondary on the ’05 Super Bowl team.

2003: Troy and Ike are still starters. Alonzo Jackson’s legacy: if a young Steelers linebacker struggles he will inevitably be compared to Jackson. (Yet somehow Chris Carter has avoided that fate … although it’s still early.)

2004: Big Ben and Max Starks worked out. Everybody else — including second-rounder Ricardo Colclough — did not.

2005: Not a bad haul: Heath Miller, Bryant McFadden and Chris Kemoeatu are starters, and Trai Essex can now play every position on the line of scrimmage (he went to Northwestern as a tight end before eating himself out of the position). Fred Gibson — the next Plax (and my argument for why tall receivers are overrated) — didn’t make it out of camp.

2006: Maybe the worst draft in recent history: Santonio was well worth the first-round trade-up, and Willie Colon finally grew into right tackle in 2009, but Anthony Smith, Willie Reid, Orien Harris, Omar Jacobs and three other late-round picks didn’t work out.

2007: Nobody wanted Juan Timmons in April 2007 but he’s now in the middle of his Wreakin’ Havoc tour and already gotten his extension. Woodley, Spaeth, Sepulveda and Gay were also taken, as was Ryan McBean (who started in Denver for a couple seasons).

2008: Rashard Mendenhall was a no-brainer at the time and he’s worked out well. Limas Sweed was cursed and Bruce Davis was cut after one season. Tony Hills finally gotthe boot and Dennis Dixon might have if Byron didn’t break his arm this preseason.

2009: It took a while, but Ziggy Hood proved his worth when Aaron Smith went down last season. Urbik’s gone, but the Steelers got a first-round talent in third-rounder Mike Wallace. Keenan Lewis had another good preseason (though there were rumblings that he might be on the bubble), and David Johnson has emerged as a blocking and pass-catching tight end/h-back.

2010: The Steelers drafted 10 guys in April. Seven are still the team (gone are Gibson, Butler and Worthington). Three are either starters or regular contributors (Pouncey, Sanders and Brown) and two others are regulars on special teams (Worilds and Sylvester). Pretty good haul.

2011: Six of the seven picks are still with the team (Keith Williams was cut, Baron Batch was IRed).

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  • Cols714

    Overall a pretty good draft record. Even in the sucky drafts of 2006 they ended with Holmes and Colon and Mendenhall and Dixon. Of course Ted would have drafted much much better than this.

    I hate that every linebacker drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round gets compared to Alonzo Jackson. What’s the statute of limitations on that? I would think that the successes of drafting Woodley, Worilds, and Timmons, not to mention finding Harrison on the scrap heap would put to rest the every linebacker is an overdrafted bust thing. I guess I’m wrong.

    • Rob D

      I think the Steelers, considering where they draft most years, have done an excellent job of winnowing out the talent. Then they show more prowess in the UDFA pool most years. I trust their judgement and yes, they are going to miss on some players. But most times, I see the logic of their decisions and whilst I am not happy with the likes of Limas Sweed and Alonzo Jackson, as Cols notes, you have to go to the other side of the ledger and count the great pickups as well.

      Personally, I am still in awe of a team that can lose the undisputed No. 1 receiver and within 2 years have 3 of the brightest young prospects at that position. I mean even Wallace is losing some spotlight after the incredible rise of Brown and Sanders. WE should all be applauding the scouts and staff who made that happen and in record time.

      Forgive me for jumping the gun, but Saunders looks like a keeper for years to come as well. Size, good feet, great hands and hopefully he improves at his blocking. Another guy who looks like a 2nd round talent at worst who the Steelers snatched up.

      I remember an SI writer going to a practice at Latrobe and telling Cowher he was impressed with the athletes on the team. Cowher just had a little smile at the corners of his mouth and nodded knowingly. I was VERY impressed with the number of guys with quickness,speed and strenght amongst the near cuts/cuts/keepers in the preseason. I think they are serious about surrounding Ben with weapons and adding each year some youthful, quality depth to a very good but aging D. Look at how McClendon has progressed,,Ziggy, Worilds (some people arent’ happy with him but I am), Brown and C. Allen look like excellent guys with potential, Sylvester making a name for himself on ST’s, …lots to be excited about.

      Another guy I am very happy about is Gilbert. I think we have a legit LT prospect in him. Way overdue. I think we are all going to enjoy another stellar season from our favourite team. Sucks to be us..wink

  • Hoffstra323

    I think letting go of butler was not a smart move, in fact I see that Arizona has picked him up already. The guy just seemed to be all over the field when he was playing. A team like the steelers needs a guy at corner who isn’t afraid to try and step up and make a play. Thats what everyone seems to be saying anyways. I guess the knock on crezdon would be that he may not fit in with the bend but dont break policy. call it a numbers game or whatever but you gotta find a way to keep this guy. I expect to see him on the field when we play Arizona in week seven. I have been big on him and tony hills all preseason and it is hard to argue for hills since this is now his fourth year. I know people will say arizona takes all our guys but they may just have a keeper in Butler.