1. Cortez Allen, CB – Right now, he just might be THE rookie on the team. At the very least the fourth-round pick showed no flaws and is even being mentioned as a possible starter at LCB in 2012. In 2011 he played well, made his meetings, and except for the occasional ‘yes, sir', ‘no, sir,' kept his mouth shut. A punt gunner, Allen was fourth on special teams with 8 tackles and took snaps in the secondary in 9 games. He even covered Rob Gronkowski and knocked the big tight end backward, a yard shy of the sticks in the win over New England.
2. Will Allen, S – The No. 4 safety enters the final year of a contract that will pay him $1.28 million this season. The minimum wage for a rookie is $375,000, so that's what the Steelers will look at when they're calculating the cost of veteran depth here. Allen played only seven mop-up snaps on defense in 2011, but was third on special teams with 9 tackles.
3. Baron Batch, RB – This rookie was the talk of the first week of camp because of his blocking. Only in Pittsburgh. But he tore an ACL on Aug. 10 and the seventh-round pick never got an opportunity to play in a backfield that was rife with injuries all season. Batch will probably dip his toe back in the water in May, with much work awaiting him at training camp as Rashard Mendenhall rehabilitates. Batch will be one of five legitimate candidates vying for the two or three spots behind Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
4. Charlie Batch, QB – Is a free agent who'd love to re-sign. Just turned 37 but showed no signs of age in any of his four appearances this season. Was the starter in the 27-0 win over the St. Louis Rams. His veteran's minimum salary hit against the cap would be $540,000.
5. Arnaz Battle, WR – Entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $1.04 million at the age of 32, Allen appeared in only the opener at WR and made only 4 tackles on special teams, where he was unit captain. Missed 4½ games with a hamstring injury and returned but did not play in three of the final four games. He played in the playoffs but did not make a tackle. Candidate to be cut before March 13 fiscal new year.
6. Antonio Brown, WR – Not much more to be said about the player teammates voted as their MVP. No one doubts he'll work just as hard this offseason.
7. Curtis Brown, CB – Rookie third-round pick missed the final three games with a knee injury, but still finished as the tackles (15) leader on special teams. He didn't see the field on defense, but played so well on special teams that Tomlin gushed at one press conference about his potential at cornerback. Should begin taking snaps in sub-packages next season.
8. Corbin Bryant, DE – An undrafted rookie, Bryant opened the season on the practice squad before being signed to the active roster to replace Aaron Smith. He played five snaps on defense in Arizona, but was put back on the practice squad the next week. Bryant didn't get the call when Chris Hoke went down 10 days later.
9. Chris Carter, OLB – No. 4 OLB was inactive for eight games with a hamstring injury before finally going on IR before the playoffs. That surely didn't impress Tomlin, who hasn't been giving a free ride to the young linebackers. Carter has a burst, but made only one tackle on special teams. Important offseason for the fifth-round rookie.
10. Miguel Chavis, TE – Really not sure if he's a tight end or a defensive end or a linebacker. They tried to find a place for the undrafted rookie but he was eventually waived/injured during camp and remains on the team's IR list.
11. Erik Clanton, ILB – At least I remember Chavis. This undrafted rookie out of The Citadel was released Aug. 4 and remains on the team's IR list, and I was surprised to read all of this.
12. Ryan Clark, FS – Should've noticed the team's general disrespect for Tebow when Clark told me Ryan Mundy would be fine as his replacement because Denver couldn't throw the ball. Those weren't Clark's exact words, but close. And the game proved a.) the cardinal sin of disrespect filtered down to the players and b.) Clark was missed. But would the Steelers try to save money by making Mundy the starter? Well, cutting Clark would save them $1.75 million. His replacelement would be Will Allen (see above).
13. John Clay, RB – Undrafted rookie went from walking off the field in training camp to carrying the ball in the playoffs. Former was a misunderstanding; latter was due to four injuries to players at his position. He rushed for 41 yards (4.1) in the final two regular-season games and was 1 for 1 in the playoff game. That will help him in his battle to make the team next year, but he'll have to put in the work. The competition will be hot.
14. Willie Colon, OT – Signed a 5-year deal and promptly tore his right triceps in the opener. This occurred on the heels of a torn Achilles' tendon that wiped out his entire 2010 season. Colon is scheduled to earn a whopping $5.375 million salary in 2012, but can't be cut because an additional three years of prorated bonus money ($3.6 million) would hit the cap. Will likely open camp as the first-team right tackle.
15. Jerricho Cotchery, WR – A free agent, Cotchery was quiet about his future plans but was not quiet about his admiration for the organization. Was very comfortable in the locker room, as Ben Roethlisberger and the receivers took him in and made him feel welcome. The rumor was that Roethlisberger bugged the coaching staff to get Cotchery more playing time. Is all of that enough for him to consider staying with the team as a No. 3 or 4 receiver? At a team-affordable salary? He'll likely test the market first.
16. Damon Cromartie-Smith, S – The No. 5 safety could take Will Allen's roster spot this season. A member of the practice squad for a second consecutive season, Cromartie-Smith was added to the active roster on Dec. 8, even though none of the safeties were injured. Cromartie-Smithplayed special teams the final four games and made 3 tackles, and also played special teams in the playoff game.