Steelers post-cuts 53-man roster projection: Defensive line starting to sort itself out

Neal Coolong
SB Nation

It looks as if three defensive linemen will battle it out for possibly just one spot on the Steelers' 53-man roster.

Offense (24)

Quarterback (3) - Ben RoethlisbergerBruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

Running backs (5)Le'Veon BellLeGarrette BlountDri ArcherWill Johnson, TBD

We mentioned this last time, "anyone want on the Stephen Houston Bandwagon? It's coming." He's gonna get a lot of carries Thursday against Carolina, making a late charge at the Redman Award (ok maybe not) and possibly even avoiding the yearly trend of an unheralded running back doing well in the final game only to be released two days later.

We're still of the belief the team wants to bring in a veteran, but it's possible they just go with four.

Offensive tackles (4)Marcus GilbertKelvin BeachumMike Adams, Wesley Johnson

Offensive guards (3) Ramon FosterDavid DeCastro, Cody Wallace

Centers (1) - Maurkice Pouncey

Not that the rookie Johnson was in much danger for the first cut, he'll likely get looks at multiple positions Thursday, and in that, seal his spot on the team. The release of Chris Elkins likely means Johnson will play largely at center, behind Wallace.

Tight ends (3)Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer

We'll say it again, "this is a big game for Rob Blanchflower, the team's seventh-round pick. He'll likely make it through Tuesday's cuts, but he's going to have to show something Thursday. They're giving him every chance to take Palmer's spot, but I don't think he's done that yet." It's no different today.

Wide receivers (5)Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Justin Brown, Martavis Bryant

ESPN's Scott Brown opined the special teams contributions of Darrius Heyward-Bey may compel the team to keep a sixth receiver. If a veteran receiver is the best punt gunner they have, the team's defensive secondary is a bit more shallow than we initially thought. We're staying with five, but Heyward-Bey is one to watch Thursday.

Defense (25)

Nose tackles (2) - Steve McLendon, Dan McCullers

Defensive ends (5) Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams

Still the position to watch. The somewhat unexpected early release of Hebron Fangupo nudges McCullers into his former role - goal line and special teams. This really is now about Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer vs. Williams. We're giving Williams the edge due to position flexibility, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Mauro find his way on this team initially.

Inside linebackers (5) - Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin

Outside linebackers (4) - Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter

As compelling Howard Jones' story is, he's going to have to show a beast-like ability on special teams to make the team over Carter. He'll have to dress on game day, and it's a wonder if he's ready to do that. The team may keep a 10th linebacker, but that's an extreme case, and one likely not worth an undrafted rookie.

Then again, we wrote the same thing about Adrian Robinson two years ago.

We've heard repeatedly Jordan Zumwalt may be a surprise keep here, providing some more evidence the team may keep 10 linebackers, or even just flat-out cut Carter or even Terence Garvin. We'd rather have either of them than the oft-injured Zumwalt right now, but Zumwalt is practice squad eligible and injured. Perhaps a redshirt-IR move is in the works here.

Cornerbacks (5) - Ike Taylor, Cortez AllenWilliam Gay, Brice McCain, Antwon Blake

Safeties (4) - Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko ThomasRobert Golden

Ah, now I remember why Mike Mitchell blocked us on Twitter. We suggested a motivational "co-starter" designation for Shamarko Thomas. That wasn't meant as an "anti-Mitchell" statement as much as it was a "pro-Thomas." Competition is good. Soapstone sharpens soapstone.

With Dangerfield out of the picture now, it's going to come down to Golden and Will Allen, and that could go either way. Allen is the better safety, Golden is stronger on 'teams. We love what Thomas has been doing and feel he could back up both positions to the point he'd be their guy in case of injury, leaving Golden to be the team's special teams captain this season.

Specialists (4)

Kicker (1) - Shaun Suisham

Punter (1) - TBD

Long snappers (2) - Greg Warren, Bryce Davis

Reports suggest Warren is on track to be able to play in Week 1 and beyond. We think the final roster will change after the final cuts, and Davis will be kept for insurance. They'll tell him to keep his bags packed, because more of the issue here isn't Week 1, is the Week 1 and Week 2 Combo Platter. The Steelers have to turn around and play on Thursday Night (at Baltimore) in Week 2, and if Warren isn't ready for Week 1, it's really hard to say he'll definitely be ready for Week 2. They may have to keep Davis through Friday before Week 1.

Whether Adam Podlesh comes back next week or whether the Steelers look elsewhere, Wing has missed a few too many times to think an upgrade isn't coming. Don't look so much at his net average, he's put a few really nice ones inside the 20 and he's showed good hangtime, but he doesn't have the long-field leg strength. We're on the fence here, but considering the team's track record with punters, we think they're going to kick a few tires come cut day.

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