The Big 53 Game

Jim Wexell doesn't have many surprises on his predicted 53-man roster, just the same old surprises he's insisted upon since spring. Here it is, from the ground up:

Chuck Noll used to greet Tony Dungy as he came off the field by asking him what he saw.

Noll didn't want to tell Dungy he had made a mistake. Noll wanted to get inside the young defensive back's head and find the flaw in the thought process that led to the mistake.

Dungy has since passed this method down his coaching tree. Mike Tomlin probably doesn't even know he's being influenced by the Godfather of all Steelers coaches, but he is.

We all are.

Anyway, regarding this 53-man roster that must be turned into the commissioner's office by 9 p.m. next Friday, Aug. 31, I'm going to build from the ground up and take you through my thought process.

I've talked to enough personnel men, scouts and players that I have a decent idea. And of course the last two preseason games will weigh heavily. That's when I'm hoping you'll be able to connect the following dots:

THE SKELETON (46)

Quarterback (2) – Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich.

Running Backs (5) – Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey, Will Johnson.

Wide Receivers (4) – Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery.

Tight Ends (2) – Heath Miller, Leonard Pope.

Offensive Line (8) – Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Mike Adams.

Defensive Line (6) – Brett Keisel, Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, Casey Hampton, Cameron Heyward, Alameda Ta'amu.

Linebackers (8) – James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley, Chris Carter, Sean Spence, Stevenson Sylvester, Brandon Johnson.

Cornerbacks (4) – Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown.

Safeties (4) – Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy, Robert Golden.

Specialists (3) – Shaun Suisham, Jeremy Kapinos, Matt Katula (flip of coin with Greg Warren).

THE SPECIAL TEAMS (4)

Tomlin told TV analyst Cris Collinsworth before the last game that Adrian Robinson can't play teams. Not sure why, but I'll trust him. So the following players must report directly to new special teams coordinator Amos Jones over by the goal post:

47. David Gilreath (WR).

48. Baron Batch (RB).

49. Will Allen (S).

50. David Paulson (TE).

THE INJURIES (3)

Since a smattering of veterans will start the season injured, we're going to have to add some depth:

51. Trai Essex –Starks appears as if he'll be fine for the opener, but only shaky rookie Adams is behind him at LT (since Foster's an OG/RT). That opens the door for Essex, who beats out rookie Kelvin Beachum for the ninth OL job.

52. Corbin Bryant – Hampton is coming off a torn ACL and the Steelers don't expect Ta'amu to be ready. The rookie nose tackle's had an awful preseason, but rides on scholarship because he's shown enough raw power. That means McLendon will be busy at nose tackle and shouldn't be expected to swing over to DE in an emergency – yet. The ripple effect shows only Heyward in reserve for two DE spots, meaning a job goes to either Bryant or Al Woods. It might be the most difficult call this preseason. Woods started fast with his interception and solid play against the run, but Bryant's coming on lately. He's far more active and might even be able to run down on kickoff coverage. Both have practice-squad eligibility.

53. Adrian Robinson – With OLB James Harrison's knee a question mark, and ILB/OLB Stevenson Sylvester out for a couple of weeks, the Steelers have great reason to give OLB Robinson – the best remaining athlete – the job over ILBs Brandon Hicks and Ryan Baker. Both are eligible for the practice squad.

THE SUMMARY

The balance sheet shows 25 on offense and 25 on defense. Left short were quarterbacks and cornerbacks.

Rookie quarterback Jerrod Johnson would make it back to the practice squad to give the team a third arm throughout the week. But remember, there's no Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle El around to serve as an in-game emergency quarterback. Charlie Batch wouldn't solve that problem as "a phone-call-away guy," either, so this tactic is a bit risky.

Rookie cornerback Terrence Frederick hasn't disappointed – as a seventh-round pick – but he hasn't shown enough for the Steelers to worry about losing him to another team. Frederick would make it back to the practice squad, while Golden can play cornerback during an in-game emergency.

There might also be money considerations. If the Steelers extend Wallace's contract by Sept. 9 some veterans may be cut and replaced by rookies with their $390,000 minimum salaries. But that's a worry for another column.


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