The Steelers finished the preseason 0-4 with a 25-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers Thursday night. Preseason records mean nothing but one thing the preseason has showed is that the Steelers aren’t very deep and talented after their top tier group of players.
My best observation of this group after four weeks is this:
They have the look of a team that I can easily see going 7-9, 8-8, but the top tier group of players at the critical positions on the roster are good enough to carry this group to a 10-6, maybe even 11-5 season (best case scenario) and playoff berth.
Having Ben Roethlisberger always gives you a chance and if the defense can stay healthy, they have the look of being a very good unit that should produce more turnovers this season. I think the linebacker group could have a special season as a whole led by Lawrence Timmons. It should also be taken into account that the Steelers play a third place schedule. This is a flawed team that will need a lot to go right but they’re still capable of getting 10 wins.
The Steelers have until 6:00 p.m. Saturday to cut the roster down to 53. Here’s the latest chatter:
*Felix Jones will be on the 53-man roster and could be the starting running back by week 1 or 2. He’s made that much of an impression on offensive coordinator Todd Haley I’m told. Tomlin again talked Jones up last night following the Carolina game. “I thought Felix Jones helped himself,” Tomlin said. “His pedigree showed. His natural run instincts showed. We’ll continue to look at it and go through the process in a proper manner once we get back to Pittsburgh.”
*The Steelers come out of the preseason with no punt returners emerging. There was some hope that Reggie Dunn would wow the Steelers in the preseason and win a job but that didn’t happen and he will be cut. “We know we have some known, capable guys,” Tomlin said. “We wanted to look at some development type guys. Antonio Brown is a capable punt returner. We know that Markus Wheaton is a capable punt returner. Emmanuel Sanders is a capable punt returner. We know what those guys are capable of. We have seen it in the past, in the case of Markus earlier this month. We wanted to take a look at some other guys.”
*UDFA OLB Alan Baxter continued to standout again and he’s showed enough flashes in practice and the preseason where he’s put himself in position to win a roster spot based on the “potential” factor if the Steelers feel he won’t be safe on the practice squad. Some Steeler officials see a young James Harrison in Baxter.
*WR coach Richard Mann said early in training camp that the Steelers would start the season with 5 wide receivers but that was before Plaxico Burress was lost for the season. Derek Moye has played well enough to be the 5th receiver but all signs point to the Steelers starting the year with 4 wide receivers and putting Moye or Justin Brown on the practice squad.
THREE NOTABLE PLAYERS WHO COULD BE SURPRISED CUTS TOMORROW
1. NT Alameda Ta’ama – The 2012 4th round pick was once looked at as Casey Hampton’s potential long-term replacement. Don’t bet on that ever happening. Aside from his off field issues, coaches are extremely frustrated by Ta’ama’s lack of progress in year 2 and there’s been concerns about a lack of determination and drive. He’s been outplayed by Hebron Fangupo mightily in camp and if the Steelers only keep six defensive linemen, Ta’ama could be in jeopardy. He just doesn’t look like an NFL player right now and I don’t see him making the roster.
2. CB Curtis Brown – He’s showed no improvement as a cornerback and he’s reached the point where the Steelers can’t trust him on the field in defending the pass. Josh Victorian is a better cornerback than Brown but Brown is a superior special teams player and still has the 3rd round pedigree that likely gets him the nod over Victorian if the Steelers only keep 5 cornerbacks.
3. RB Jonathan Dwyer – Once Le’Veon Bell went down, Dwyer was viewed as a lock to at least start the season on the roster but the rumors won’t go away that he could be on the chopping block especially with the emergence of Felix Jones. Lots of chatter that he’s truly on the bubble. Cutting Dwyer would be risky by the Steelers.