Iwuoma, Morey crunch numbers for roster spot
By Jim Wexell, For the Herald-Standard
LATROBE - Their skills are specific to special teams, so they know all about numbers crunches. And Chidi Iwuoma and Sean Morey will tell you the same thing every year:
"You don't count numbers," is the paraphrase.
So as a service, we'll count for them.
On offense: 3 QBs + 5 RBs + 6 WRs + 3 TEs + 9 OLmen = 26.
On defense: 9 DBs + 8 LBers + 7 DLmen = 24.
On special teams: 1 punter +1 kicker + 1 long snapper = 3.
The total comes to 53, the roster max. And neither Iwuoma nor Morey, last season's special teams co-captains, can find room.
"Yeah, it's competitive," said Morey. "I just wrote a letter to an old coach of mine. I'd mentioned that this is probably the most competitive receiving corps I've been in camp with, and it's funny because every year you feel like, wow, this is the most competitive, and then the next year this is the most competitive. I really, truly believe there are guys on this team that not only can play on other teams but will play on other teams once we make the final cuts."
The Steelers are deep. The defensive linemen, in particular, will make for difficult cuts. And rookie center Marvin Philip is pushing for that No. 9 job on the offensive line. The third quarterback, rookie Omar Jacobs, is struggling immensely with the playbook, but Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch don't inspire iron-man confidence at this point. And cutting a third tight end would mean cutting a fifth-round pick, Charles Davis, who has a first-round body and soft hands.
There would appear to be little room for the co-captains, no matter how special teams coach Kevin Spencer hopes to cut it.
"It's too early to panic," said Spencer. "I think it's a good deal that we've got a lot of competition. We're pretty thick at a couple positions so it's going to be a dogfight to get those few spots. I just don't worry about it. Those guys know they're probably on a yearly basis. They're always fighting for their lives anyway. That's just the way it is."
Spencer was asked to explain the role of each co-captain.
"Chidi is a cover guy and Sean is a personal protector," Spencer said. "They're very similar in what they do for us in kick coverage. They're just warriors. They have very specific roles and they do it very, very well. They really are inspirational for us and do a great job. Guys like that you like to keep around."
Iwuoma made the game-turning play by forcing a fumble near the goal line in the sluggish win over Detroit in the regular-season finale. Morey makes the calls in punt coverage as the fullback, or personal protector, and on the kickoff team he lines up in the middle and throws his 200 pounds into wedges like he's Brett Keisel.
"Sean does so many things I can't even begin to think of anything that stands out," Spencer said. "He's usually the first guy down on punt coverage. He's flushing the guy out or making the play. He's invaluable for us in punt because he runs the show for us. He does everything and he does everything well. The opening kickoff in the Super Bowl he made a play, or ran right by his guy and set up Diesel. He ran right by him."
Iwuoma also played well in the Super Bowl, even though he was a focus of Seattle's game plan. It was a result of Iwuoma having played so well in the AFC Championship game.
Iwuoma said he goes into every punt expecting "to get held, thrown down, brutalized, but the key is to get up." Against Cleveland, Iwuoma was double-covered at the line and the Browns had a third man come out of the box and all three players beat on him. He still got downfield and accidentally made the tackle without seeing the return man.
"Three guys on me, that was the craziest thing I've seen," he said.
And the Super Bowl?
"It was really bad during the Super Bowl," he said. "I don't know what was going on but those guys didn't even attempt to block me; it was an automatic pulldown. I'd be standing next to the ref and I'd say, ref, watch this. They'd snap the ball and, pow, they tackled me. I'd look at the ref and he'd say, 'I didn't see it. I didn't see it.' It gets a little frustrating."
The refs did flag Seattle for holding Tyrone Carter as he covered a punt. The Seahawks have been whining about the call all summer.
"It's ridiculous," Iwuoma said. "There'd be three or four guys being held on the same play, so even if it wasn't him it would be somebody else. It was justified somehow. But yeah it's definitely a tough thing out there. I try to be nice to the refs so they look at me."
He's a savvy veteran and savvy veterans help win Super Bowls. Iwuoma underwent off-season surgery on his rotator cuff and is healthy entering his sixth season. Morey is also entering his sixth season. Both would like to finish those seasons with the Steelers, but the numbers are against them.
"You can't count numbers," Morey insisted. "Any year I've done that, and made the speculations, I've always been shocked. You never count numbers. All you can do is control what you can control and that's being in shape, being ready to compete, and just going out and playing."
And let the co-captains fall where they may.