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Predicting Pittsburgh Steelers' 1st Wave of Roster Cuts

Chris GazzeCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2014

Predicting Pittsburgh Steelers' 1st Wave of Roster Cuts

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    Chris Gazze

    The journey will soon be over for 15 players in their quest to make the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the first round of cuts is still over three weeks away, the talent pool is already beginning to separate.

    With only 53 spots available to the 90 players invited to training camp, over 40 percent will have to look for jobs elsewhere.  When you consider that about 40 roster spots are likely secure with the 22 starters and key backups, that leaves little room for error as the fringe players compete for a spot on the team.

    Some players will take advantage of their opportunity, impress the coaches and make the cut, while others are just counting down the days until the first round of cuts takes place on August 26. By this date, the Steelers must reduce their roster to 75 active players.

    Although it is early, the first wave of roster cuts is becoming clear. For some, a spectacular performance in the preseason will give them another chance with the coaches, but there is little reason for others to stick around.

    So with over a week of training camp now complete, here is an early look at the moves the Steelers will make as they reduce their roster to 75 players.

Sure to Be Cut

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    Jordan Hall tries to break a tackle.
    Jordan Hall tries to break a tackle.Chris Gazze

    There are few clues better to roster cuts than the depth chart. Steelers’ communications coordinator Burt Lauten announced that the first depth chart of training camp was released on Sunday. It provided everyone with a preview of what to expect when it comes to roster cuts. For several players, it only confirmed what has already been observed in camp—that their time as a member of the Steelers is soon to be over.

    Visible proof of the @steelers depth chart - will be on http://t.co/U7p9kDHOE6 shortly pic.twitter.com/Wl9Xs1KNlS

    — Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) August 3, 2014

     

    Lanear Sampson, WR

    The Steelers may lack experience at receiver, but they do have a lot of talent. They have seven receivers in camp who are locks or have a legitimate opportunity to make the roster. Lanear Sampson is not in that group.

    He was signed to a reserve/future contract back in January. Typically, these players are used to provide depth during training camp, and that is exactly what Sampson has done.

    We have signed CB Devin Smith, LB Dan Molls, RB Miguel Maysonet and WR Lanear Sampson to Reserve/Future contracts.

    — Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 7, 2014

    Sampson entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts and later signed on to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. This experience has not helped him, as he is primarily running at or near the bottom of the wide receiver rotation.

     

    Jordan Hall, RB

    Jordan Hall was a late addition to the Steelers roster. They needed an additional running back, and he could do that and more. His versatility, as noted by Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain, made him a valuable depth player for training camp. 

    However, the Steelers have another versatile running back in camp who is garnering all of the attention. Dri Archer is playing all over the field and showing everyone his elite speed. That makes it difficult for Hall—another undersized running back—to stand out.

    Hall has not been able to show his burst and has had only a few nice runs. He has also had his issues with blocking, as reported by Ken Laird of TribLive Radio.

    Rookie Ryan Shazier dusts RB Jordan Hall on an inside move

    — Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) July 28, 2014

    Even though the Steelers don’t have much depth at running back, Hall hasn’t been able to stand out in any way.

     

    Jawan Jamison, RB

    Jawan Jamison signed with the Steelers during training camp to replace an injured Alvester Alexander. That is all you need to know about his chances.

    Though he weighs more than Archer does, he is shorter and doesn’t appear to have much lower-body strength. In his few days at practices, he hasn’t shown anything special, which isn’t surprising given his experience with the Washington Redskins last season.

    Rich Tandler of CSN Washington summed up his brief experience in Washington:

    Jawan Jamison was active for last 3 games and didn’t play a snap on special teams. Telling. http://t.co/MUg8fk3eQ7 #RedskinsTalk

    — Rich Tandler (@Rich_TandlerCSN) February 6, 2014

     

    Emmanuel McCray, OT

    The Steelers may have a talented starting offensive line, but they lack depth at the position. That will leave the door open for a young player to step up and seize his opportunity.

    Emmanuel McCray will not be one of those players. He has looked like the worst offensive lineman in training camp. Defensive linemen have physically dominated him and have knocked him to the ground numerous times.

    There will be several players competing for a spot on the depth chart, but McCray will not be one of them.

     

    Roy Philon, NT

    There is a quick and easy test to see how well a player is performing in training camp. All you need to do is go to Twitter and search his name. You’ll find that you either have the next superstar or the biggest bust in the history of the NFL.

    What are the results for Philon? Nothing.

    Philon has yet to make an impact in training camp, and that is never a good sign. With Hebron Fangupo and Daniel McCullers fighting it out for what may be one of the final roster spots, Philon does not stand a chance

     

    Dan Molls, LB

    If you refer to the tweet above, you will notice that Dan Molls was one of the players the Steelers signed to a reserve/future contract back in January. Like Sampson, Molls does not stand a chance at making the roster.

    He is playing inside linebacker, where the Steelers are very deep with talent. He is at the very bottom of the depth chart, even behind Jordan Zumwalt, who has been out of practice with an injury.

     

    Lew Toler, CB

    Lew Toler was signed right at the start of training camp to provide depth at cornerback.

    The @steelers have signed DB Lew Toler (#48) & released LB Kion Wilson. Toler participated in the team's rookie minicamp as a tryout in May.

    — Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) July 25, 2014

    Toler was productive at Western Michigan and Rutgers, where he had 180 tackles and eight interceptions in 43 games, per Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk. He hasn’t shown much through the opening week of training camp.

    Though the Steelers are looking to boost their depth at cornerback, Toler is not one of the top options right now. He is behind every other cornerback on the roster

Most Likely to Be Cut

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    C.J. Goodwin participates in wide receiver drills.
    C.J. Goodwin participates in wide receiver drills.Chris Gazze

    Unlike the previous group, these players still have a chance to turn some heads and survive until the final round of cuts. Though they are at or near the bottom of the depth chart, a strong preseason performance or injuries could keep them on the roster a little bit longer.

     

    C.J. Goodwin, WR

    C.J. Goodwin is a player many have rooted for in training camp, including Hall of Famer Mel Blount.

    Blount told Alex Nieves of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he did something he has never done—recommended a player to general manager Kevin Colbert. But Goodwin was a special case, and the Steelers agreed to watch him on his pro day. 

    Goodwin did not have a productive season in college last year, but he was athletically gifted so the Steelers gave him a chance. He has had a decent training camp, where he has been able to flash his athletic ability, as noted by Ron Musselman.

    C.J. Goodwin goes up high in end zone to make nice catch over Lewis Toler.

    — Ron Musselman (@ronmusselman8) August 2, 2014

    Unfortunately, the Steelers are too deep at receiver and will not be able to keep him around for too long.

      

    Danny Coale, WR

    Danny Coale was a fifth-round draft choice by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, but he has missed time with an ACL injury and has been unable to stick on a roster.

    What Coale lacks in speed, he makes up for in quickness. He is a good route-runner, particularly over the middle of the field, and he has displayed good hands. His athleticism is good enough to match up against cornerbacks at the bottom of the depth chart, but he has trouble against NFL-caliber players.

    If injuries occur, Coale could very well stick around a little longer, but there is too much talent ahead of him. On an unrelated note, he is the son-in-law of former player and current broadcaster Tunch Ilkin, per Scott Brown of ESPN.com

     

    Will Simmons, OG

    The Steelers are thin on the offensive line, so when it was announced that he was the third-team right guard, the odds weren’t looking very good for Will Simmons.

    So far in camp, he has done nothing to distinguish himself as a player. He has played on the second- and third-string lines, which have struggled against the Steelers’ deep defensive front. Perhaps the thing that Simmons is most known for happened back during the OTAs, via Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

    Nice OTA fight between LB Vic So'oto and OG Will Simmons today.

    — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) June 3, 2014

    That same fight hasn’t been seen with his performance, and his odds of making the team are slim.

     

    Bryce Davis, TE

    Bryce Davis has been one of the few healthy tight ends on the roster, but that will not be enough to save him a spot on the roster for much longer.

    Davis is not a dynamic receiver and he has struggled in blocking drills. He hasn’t been able to take advantage of his extra opportunities with injuries to Rob Blanchflower, Eric Waters and others.

    There is no chance he will surpass Greg Warren as the top long snapper, either. Warren has been too dependable for too long to lose his job to Davis.

     

    Devin Smith, CB

    Devin Smith signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after spending his college career in Wisconsin.

    While in college, Smith played in 53 games—30 starts—and had 155 tackles, seven interceptions and 31 passes defensed. However, he has not played a regular-season down in the NFL. He had two tackles and one pass defensed in three preseason games last season.

    Smith will have to be a special teams demon to even have a chance to make the team. But even if he is, the Steelers already have one of those in Antwon Blake, who also is a much better cornerback.

On the Bubble

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    Vic So'oto will be a victim of a numbers game at linebacker.
    Vic So'oto will be a victim of a numbers game at linebacker.Chris Gazze

    The bubble players are the toughest to pick out. While they are likely to miss the final cut, there is a chance they can sneak through to the 75-man roster. Again, injuries and performance will be key for these players. Unlike the previous players listed, many of these players have flashed some talent.

     

    Brendon Kay, QB

    Brendon Kay has a lot to overcome to make the roster. He is the fourth quarterback in camp, and the Steelers are not going to give up easily on last year’s fourth-round draft choice, Landry Jones.

    With the cards stacked against him, Kay will remain confident. He told Sean Hammond of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he “went through a lot of adversity [at Cincinnati]; I’m not fazed much by it.” 

    That is exactly the type of attitude he needs to have.

    Kay has had his struggles in training camp, but he hasn’t been downright awful like some of the other quarterbacks the Steelers have brought in over the past few seasons. He isn’t a turnover machine and typically gets rid of the ball before the pressure finds him—though he did get happy feet once the live drills started.

    It will be a minor miracle if Kay beats out Jones, but he will have a chance to outperform him once the preseason games begin.

     

    Bryant Browning, OG

    Bryant Browning earned the distinguished honor of being the second-team right guard in the first depth chart. OK, so maybe it isn’t a prestigious honor, but it is better than being third-string with the lack of depth on the offensive line.

    The five starters are locks to make the team, and odds are that Mike Adams, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace are good bets to make the team as backups. At most, that leaves one spot for a lineman to make the team.

    Two players competing for that spot are Chris Elkins and Wesley Johnson. Elkins has had a strong camp, while Johnson has played virtually everywhere.

    Ramon Foster returned to camp, watched the practice tape, and was most impressed by "Chicken McNugget" aka Chris Elkins, the C from YSU.

    — James C Wexell (@jimwexell) July 30, 2014

    Very positive things coming out of Steelers camp about former #Vandy OT/OG/C/everything else Wesley Johnson. Should get a final roster spot.

    — Matt Smith (@MattSmithCFB) August 4, 2014

    The Steelers are more likely to give these two a chance as the season approaches, which means Browning will be on his way out.

     

    Vic So’oto, OLB

    The Steelers needed depth at outside linebacker, and Vic So’oto seemed like a viable candidate to win a backup job, as highlighted by Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain

    Prior to the start of training camp, he was a player I felt would provide plenty of competition for Chris Carter. However, it has not developed as I thought it would.

    Carter has actually been picking up his play as of late and appears to be comfortably settled into a backup spot at outside linebacker. He even got first-team reps ahead of Jarvis Jones on Saturday. That has left So’oto firmly entrenched with the third-team defense.

    With so many other linebackers making spectacular plays, So’oto had been relatively quiet all camp. At least, until Saturday, when he finally made some noise, via John Phillips of 93.7 The Fan:

    Vic So'oto just made an incredible pick & return on a Gradkowski pass that caught everybody's attention. #Steelers @btsteelcurtain

    — John Phillips (@PGHJohnPhillips) August 2, 2014

    So’oto may be more talented than rookie undrafted free agent Howard Jones, but the Steelers should use the time to get an extended look at Jones. They already know what So’oto can bring, and his odds of making the team are slim.

    By releasing him early, he will have a chance to catch on with another roster.

     

    Note: All photos used in this article were taken by me. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and all roster information is courtesy of Steelers.com.  

     

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