The offseason roster limit for NFL teams was raised to 90 players after the new CBA was ratified last year. The Steelers, like everyone else, fill their roster with new faces at every position to try and find that next big thing either as a starter or for depth. Most times these players that are brought in as undrafted free agents or journeymen from around the league don’t make the final 53 man roster but each year there are a few gems to be found.
Sometimes these young players make the roster, sometimes they get placed on the practice squad. Either way the Steelers have a ton of faces to work with this offseason so let’s start a breakdown of each position and the new faces that could or likely will make the final roster.
The departure of veterans like Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu and others will allow some new faces to take over at positions previously manned by the same players for years. That’s something we haven’t been able to say in quite a long time. The Steelers always like their veterans when it comes to getting the starting job but there are young players and new faces with something to prove. That means great training camp battles and a fun offseason ahead.
We’ll start with the Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall: Will likely start the season the PUP list but he still makes the final roster. He’s also in the last year of his contract so this ACL injury/recovery couldn’t have come at worse time for him. The team doesn’t figure to cut him though even with a stable of young, but largely unproven talent behind him. Since coming to the team in 2008 (injured reserve for the final 12 weeks in his rookie year) he rushed 813 for 3,367 yds and 29 TD’s. He’s got breakaway speed and runs with decent power but his job is likely in limbo after this upcoming season if Isaac Redman has an impressive season
Isaac Redman: He’ll get the start this season and has a chance to prove those naysayers wrong who doubt he’s got the ability to be an every down back for an entire season. He plays with that small school chip on his shoulder every time he touches the ball and takes offense to those who doubt his skill. He’s been mainly the short yardage back during his career but he took over in the final regular season game of 2011 and started against Denver in the playoffs, rushing 17 times for 121 yds. He also added 2 catches for 21 yds in that game. If Redman has success this season it will be his job to lose going forward and Mendenhall could seek employment elsewhere as a potential starter.
Jonathan Dwyer: After a training camp to forget last year, where he showed up overweight and in Tomlin’s dog house, he recommitted himself and ended up having success in limited action in 2011. His biggest impact came in week 5 vs the Titans where he rushed 11 times for 107 yds. For a power type back he has a good burst out of the gate and decent speed but he won’t run away from anybody. Should be the primary backup to Redman to start the year.
Baron Batch: After tearing his ACL just a few days into training camp, he’s primed to make a run at the now vacant spot held by veteran Mewelde Moore. Assuming his recovery continues to go well (he hasn’t been cleared to practice yet) he’ll be able to use his speed, good hands, and blocking ability to nail down the 3rd down back position. In the little time he did have in camp in 2011 he showed a solid ability to shield the quarterback from oncoming pass rushers in blitz pickup.
Chris Rainey: The 2012 5th round draft pick will have his work cut out for him but don’t count him out to make the final roster. His got great speed and quickness (ran a 4.45 at the combine), good hands out of the backfield, and his small stature enables him to squirt through small holes and elude the bigger defenders. He’ll have to improve his blocking though but if he makes the roster he’ll play a lot of special teams this season, something he’s very good at and played plenty of at Florida. Rainey blocked an SEC record 6 punts.
John Clay: Activated from the practice squad for the final 2 games of the regular season and the opening round of the playoffs, Clay is a power runner with raw skill but also good potential. He’s a power back, 6’1″ 248 lbs, and some feel he could have a future at FB as well.
David Johnson: Technically listed as a tight end, Johnson fulled the fullback role in the now departed Bruce Arians’ offense. It remains to be seen how Todd Haley will utilize him. OL Doug Legursky has also played the FB role in short yardage situations too. If DJ does make the final roster it will be a role player in backup TE and here in the backfield.
I can see the Steelers keeping Mendenhall, Redman, and Dwyer for sure. After that there’s a chance that both Batch and Rainey make the final cut. If Clay doesn’t make it he’ll be put back on the practice squad. However, if Mendenhall does start the season on the PUP list though, he’ll have to sit out the first 6 games and the Steelers can use his spot on John Clay for example if they choose too.
If Todd Haley chooses to keep a FB type player on the roster, David Johnson will get that position by default. That is unless they decide to use Doug Legursky full time in that role…hey, stranger things have happened!