Way back, when I wrote that this might be the deepest 90-man roster the Pittsburgh Steelers have put together, I thought for the first time in recent years the team would truly have a difficult time cutting down to 53.
Looks like I was wrong.
Before Saturday evening's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, I could find only 49 players, and that includes Maurkice Pouncey -- who must be kept on the original 53 in order to gain DTR (designated to return) status once placed on Injured Reserve.
It also helps that Mike Adams is on PUP and can remain on PUP, but must do so for a minimum of six weeks.
And it really helps that after watching the 43-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills, after I wrote the above lead to this column, I can turn to the old Chuck Noll quote that goes like this:
"Cutting won't be a problem. Stopping will."
The first cut to 75 must be completed by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the final cut to 53 must be completed by 4 p.m. Saturday.
With that, let's get on with my predicted 53, with the 49 locks in parenthesis.
QUARTERBACK (Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick) -- We can throw Landry Jones into the lock list and whittle the open spots to three. The Steelers' annual blueprint, according to GM Kevin Colbert, is to keep three QBs every year. I don't see anyone getting in the way of that plan this year.
RUNNING BACK (DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Will Johnson) -- Think how light that list of 49 locks must be with Archer included. Wow. He's shown very little improvement in toughness since being drafted in the third round last year, but he's still fast and they're still trying to get him kickoffs and gadget plays. There isn't anyone in his way here with Bell exempt for two weeks. Josh Harris, who had an awful time in pass protection Saturday evening, can make it back to the practice squad, and so can rookie fullback Roosevelt Nix. This position usually provides talent on the waiver wire, so I may not have to come back here to add Harris.
WIDE RECEIVER (Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates) -- Archer can help this position as well. C.J. Goodwin needs another year of physical development. Tyler Murphy needs another year to learn the position. Both can do that on the practice squad. Bryant will help the numbers following his return.
TIGHT END (Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James) -- With fullback Johnson working at this position all summer, a fourth TE isn't needed. Cameron Clear will be kept on either IR or the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Pouncey, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva, Doug Legursky) -- A fourth tackle will be needed, but at least one of my two cuts -- Mitchell Van Dyke or Kevin Palmer -- will clear waivers and be available for the practice squad. Chris Hubbard didn't have a great preseason but can play three positions and may not clear waivers. B.J. Finney faded late but leads the undrafted rookies who are eligible for the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE LINE (Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers, Cam Thomas, L.T. Walton) -- I'm going with Walton over Ethan Hemer because Walton was a desired sleeper by other teams on draft day and he may not clear waivers. Hemer, who played well at Buffalo, figures to make it back to the practice squad.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, Bud Dupree) -- Just don't see Anthony Chickillo making plays on special teams. And, frankly, Howard Jones outplayed him on defense this preseason. Beyond special teams, Chickillo doesn't show the "bend" required of a pass-rusher off the edge. Also figure that one of the two, Chickillo or Jones, can make it back to the practice squad and the Steelers would be happy with either.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Terence Garvin) -- Do they need more than five for two spots here? Well, it looked like just-claimed L.J. Fort was the best special-teamer on the field in Buffalo, so I'll take the coach at his word and hire that guy.
CORNERBACKS (William Gay, Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin, Doran Grant, B.W. Webb) -- Yes, Webb, like Archer and Walton, are surprising locks on this roster, but it seems like the coach and teammates really like him, and you have to believe any cornerback with any NFL experience will be picked up on the waiver wire. So it looks like the guy who really earned the job with a great camp and spring, Kevin Fogg, will be let go. He looked great as a gunner in Buffalo, but that was very late in the game and the Steelers seem to have plenty of gunners. What bugs me is that the 2011 national kickoff return champion wasn't used at that position of need all summer. Fogg said the coaching staff indicated it doesn't want to use defensive players as return men. Hey, I don't know why either, but one of my favorite players doesn't seem to be getting any love, so I'll read the signs and hope he makes it back to the practice squad.
SAFETIES (Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone) -- Ventrone emerged as the team's best gunner last season. In a year in which spots are readily available, Ventrone seems to be a lock because of it. I'm going to make my fourth and final addition here with Ian Wild, who's versatile on defense and more physical than Fogg and Alden Darby on special teams.
SPECIALISTS (Greg Warren, Brad Wing, kicker) -- Doesn't look like kicker Garrett Hartley will make it after the hamstring injury in Buffalo. The Steelers can release him and pick him back up after he heals. The young kickers to watch are in Detroit (Kyle Brindza 3-3 incl. 51-yarder with 7 of 8 kickoffs not returned), Jacksonville (Jason Myers, 4-4 incl. 55-yarder) and Oakland (Giorgio Tavecchio, 3-3). Of course, if those teams want to cut Matt Prater, Josh Scobee or Sebastian Janikowski, either of them will work, too. At punter, Jordan Berry distinguished himself last night but Wing has been the better punter throughout camp. Mike Tomlin repeatedly has tested them with his own brand of mental pressure and Berry hasn't fared well. Wing has been more consistent.
So in addition to the 49 I have as locks (in parenthesis), I'll add Landry Jones, Hubbard, Fort and Wild to complete the 53, with a running back off the waiver wire taking the spot of Pouncey on Sept. 6.