Steelers: N to S

With the season in the books, it's time to break down the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster. We'll move along alphabetically in a 5-parter. Here's N through S:

50. David Paulson, TE – Played in all 16 games and tied Mike Adams with a rookie-high 6 starts. The Steelers' 7B draft pick caught 7 passes for 51 yards, made 4 special-teams tackles, and returned 1 kickoff for 16 yards, but will be remembered most this past season for the play against the Chargers in which he was pushed backward while blocking for a WR-screen play from the Steelers' 8-yard line. The "lateral" hit Paulson's rear end and bounced back into the end zone for a Chargers touchdown and an insurmountable 27-3 lead. Paulson will no doubt get stronger this off-season and become a bigger factor as Heath Miller's bookend.

51. Zack Pianalto, TE – Caught 94 passes for 918 yards and 3 touchdowns during an injury-plagued college career at North Carolina. Measured 6-3¼, 256 and ran a 4.81 at the 2011 combine. Went undrafted and signed with the Buffalo Bills, passed through final cuts only to be waived the next day. Claimed by Tampa Bay and served as the Bucs' No. 3 TE throughout the 2011 season in which Pianalto caught 4 passes for 40 yards. Was cut by the Bucs last August and signed a futures contract with the Steelers last month.

52. Troy Polamalu, SS – Some fans think this is an easy cut; some believe Polamalu to be untouchable. Put me in the latter group. Polamalu returned from a calf injury to play in the final five games and regained his old instincts and quickness by the end of the season. He needs to shed a few pounds in the off-season, though, but still showed the ability to change the direction of a game at any time. The Steelers would shave $4.86 million from their salary cap by cutting Polamalu, who'll turn 32 in April – God willing.

53. Leonard Pope, TE – Talk about your red-zone targets, the 6-foot-8 Pope caught 3 passes and two of those were 1-yard touchdown passes. But that was it for a free agent who most likely will call it a wrap in Pittsburgh.

54. Maurkice Pouncey, C – If both Willie Colon and Max Starks depart, as expected, Pouncey becomes the clear-cut leader of the unit, and a better leader cannot be found. He's fiery, enthusiastic, hard-working, likes to have his fun, but is obviously competitive. Self-proclaimed experts like to take their shots at him – reminiscent of the shots taken at Polamalu during his latter healthy years – but in my mind he's the best young center in the league. Missed only one start with a sprained right MCL, and had to play guard twice: Against Baltimore, when he was worked at the position throughout the week, he was one of the stars of the victory; against San Diego, when he had to slide over to replace Colon in game, he was one of the goats in defeat. STATS Inc. had him with only 2 penalties (both illegal procedures) all season, but Pouncey did allow a career-high 3.75 sacks. Pouncey was clearly the Steelers' best offensive lineman last season, and at 24 (on July 24) has many outstanding seasons to come.

55. Isaac Redman, RB – After the Super Bowl, Ravens RB Bernard Pollard admitted he played the majority of the season with six cracked ribs. Pollard didn't want to say anything earlier to draw a target for defenders, and I presume Redman, who's similar in style to Pollard, will also admit this spring to being injured throughout his 2012 season. The Steelers will take their knowledge of his situation into consideration prior to Redman hitting restricted free agency on March 12. Redman will likely receive the original-draft round compensation tender of $1.39 million, and of course since Redman signed with the team as an undrafted free agent – courtesy of a tip from Bruce Arians – the Steelers wouldn't receive any compensation from, say, Arizona, if he departs. But the Steelers could retain Redman by matching any offer.

56. Bert Reed, WR – Caught 170 passes for 2,022 yards at Florida State, went undrafted in 2012, and bounced between four NFL practice squads before the Steelers re-signed the 5-10, 183-pounder (4.46 40) to a futures contract. Reed helped the Steelers prepare to beat the Ravens by taking on the role of Anquan Boldin in practices that week. At the time, Reed gushed about "the vibe" in the Steelers' locker room.

57. Adrian Robinson, OLB – Comparable to another undrafted rookie, Robert Golden, in that Robinson was active in 12 games even though he was unproductive on special teams (0 tackles). That says something about what the coaching staff thinks of him as a pass-rusher. Robinson showed plenty of prowess in that regard last preseason and was kept as a rare fifth OLB. His potential will allow the Steelers to pass on the position on draft day if it doesn't find great value along the way.

58. Ben Roethlisberger, QB – Before suffering a rare injury to the sternoclavicular ligament, which compromised the stability of his first rib, Roethlisberger was tearing it up in Todd Haley's offense. The Steelers were 6-3 and Roethlisberger was being sacked once every 18.6 dropbacks with a career-best 17-4 TD-INT ratio, and, at 100.01, the potential for a third 100+ passer rating in his nine-year career. After his return from the injury, and after several injuries to the offensive line, Roethlisberger was sacked once every 12.1 dropbacks, had a TD-INT ratio of 9-4, and a passer rating of 89.1 as the Steelers went 1-3. Perhaps out of frustration, Roethlisberger made what was perceived as criticisms of Haley, and the many Bruce Arians fans among the Pittsburgh media ran with them. So the drama of the QB/coordinator saga no doubt will continue into the 2013 season.

59. Brian Rolle, LB – This futures signing could turn out to be an outstanding one for the Steelers. Only 5-9 5/8, 227 coming out of Ohio State in 2011, Rolle was drafted in the sixth round by the Philadelphia Eagles after starting for two years at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes. He was a team captain as a senior, led Ohio State in tackles, and helped the defense finish third in the nation against the run. Rolle – cousin of Myron Rolle – broke into the Eagles' starting lineup as their weak-side 4-3 OLB and started the remaining 13 games. He made 63 tackles and returned his only forced fumble for a touchdown. But he lost his starting job to Akeem Jordan last preseason, but after replacing him late in September after an in-game injury, Rolle was bench again the following week in favor of Jamar Chaney. Rolle was released after the ensuing game – a game in which the Giants gashed the Eagles' kickoff coverage unit – as poor special-teams play was cited. Rolle had been considered an outstanding special-teams player at Ohio State, so perhaps the release had more to do with how he had handled his demotion. With the Steelers, who can use a smaller inside linebacker due to the size on the strong side of OLB LaMarr Woodley, Rolle could contend for the inside buck position.

60. Emmanuel Sanders, WR – Made a significant – if not expected – jump in his third season. His 44 catches for 626 yards and 1 TD nearly matched his stats from the previous two seasons combined (50-664-0). Sanders led the Steelers with 14.2 yards per catch and a punt-return average of 9.3 (only 9 returns). However, can this slot receiver replace Mike Wallace at split end if Wallace departs in free agency, as expected? It's a stretch, in my opinion.

61. Sean Spence, ILB – After Spence suffered a gruesome preseason injury to the ACL, PCL and LCL in his left knee, Ryan Clark told Esquire that "I cried. A young kid, a promising young kid, hurt his knee real bad, was in a situation where he couldn't move his foot. He couldn't control where his foot was going." It appeared in a story about NFL injuries. Before the story came out, Spence – who had led the team with 13 preseason tackles and was impressing coaches with his knowledge of the complicated buck ILB position – was optimistic about a 2013 return. All Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would say when asked if Spence's injury was career-threatening was, "No one will know until he gets back on the field."

62. Max Starks, OT – Free and healthy for the first time in his nine NFL seasons (a long and winding story), Starks is expected to sign elsewhere. The Steelers won't be able to afford this effective left tackle with two young and inexpensive tackles – Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert – coming off back-to-back team Rookie of the Year seasons. Starks will be missed. According to Pro Football Focus, he led the Steelers with 1,083 snaps, yet, according to STATS Inc., allowed only 3 sacks and wasn't penalized for holding. Starks will also be missed in the locker room. A thoughtful, honest and intelligent player who was always available and generous with his time to the media, Starks was inexplicably passed over for the Chief Award this past season by a select group of voting members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association.

63. Shaun Suisham, K – Converted 28 of 31 field goals this season, including a perfect 19 for 19 from 25-52 yards. Missed a 54-yarder and a 53-yarder late in tied games against Tennessee and Cincinnati that both ended in losses. Suisham also missed a 24-yarder after a bad snap in that same Cincinnati game. His .844 conversion percentage with the Steelers is a team record, but the cap-strapped team could save $600,000 by replacing Suisham with a rookie.

64. Stevenson Sylvester, LB – Speaking of cap savings, the Steelers must consider whether they want to offer this former fifth-round pick an RFA tender of $1.39 million after he made only 1 special-teams tackle in 10 games last season. Sylvester didn't participate in a defensive snap and has only 5 defensive tackles in three NFL seasons.

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