Trimming the roster

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert was quick to point out in the aftermath of this year's draft that practice squads were increasing from five to eight players this season. And, Colbert said, the Steelers were taking players in later rounds with that in mind.

It's a good thing, the practice squad increased, because this year's crop of undrafted rookies has been one of the Steelers' best in recent memory. Quite a few undrafted rookies could make the 53-man roster over more-heralded, drafted players.

The Steelers began trimming the roster by releasing seven players of the weekend and will cut some more by Tuesday.

Here's one man's view of how the 53-man roster will work out:

Quarterback (3) - Tommy Maddox, No. 1 pick Ben Roethlisberger and second-year player Brian St. Pierre. Steelers head coach Bill Cowher dodged a tough decision about what to do with St. Pierre when Charlie Batch was lost for the season.

Running back (6) - Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis, Verron Haynes, Dante Brown, Willie Parker and Dan Kreider. Bill Cowher said he's having a tough time deciding who goes here. If it were based on current production and potential, Bettis would be the odd man out. But he gets one more season with the Steelers. If he still wants to play after that, it will have to be somewhere else.

Wide Receiver (5) - Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Doering and Lee Mays. Cowher had another a tough decision to make here until promising rookie Zamir Cobb broke his ankle in the second preseason game. Freddie Milons had a chance to make the roster until he played terribly at Philadelphia.

Tight end (4) - Jerame Tuman, Jay Riemersma, Matt Cushing and Matt Kranchick. Kranchick shows nothing as a blocker, but looks good as a receiver. Cushing is an extra fullback.

Offensive line (9) - Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Keydrick Vincent, Oliver Ross, Todd Fordham, Chukky Okobi, Jim Jones and Max Starks. This unit needs to stay healthy. Jones is the surprise addition to the roster. Let's just hope he doesn't make any purple Kool-Aid in the locker room.

Defensive line (6) - Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Brett Keisel, Travis Kirschke and Chris Hoke. This may be the best unit on the team, which is saying something on a team with a receiving corps like the Steelers have. Hoke makes it over Kendrick Clancy, who has missed the entire preseason with a calf injury.

Linebackers (8) - Joey Porter, Kendrell Bell, James Farrior, Clark Haggans, Clint Kriewaldt, Larry Foote, Dedrick Roper, and James Harrison. Alonzo Jackson will now be spoken of in the same light as former No. 1 pick Huey Richardson. But Jackson is less of a bust, even though he was a second-round pick. Roper and Harrison are too good to let go.

Secondary (9) - Chris Hope, Troy Polamalu, Chad Scott, Deshea Townsend, Ricardo Colclough, Ike Taylor, Russell Stuvaints, Mike Logan and Chidi Iwuoma. Stuvaints and Iwuoma make it because they are excellent special teams players, though Stuvaints is turning into a serviceable safety. This will be Scott's final season as Taylor and Colclough prepare to step into prominent roles next season.

Specialists (3) - Kicker Jeff Reed, punter Chris Gardocki and long snapper Mike Schneck. Schneck holds off a solid challenge this year by rookie Drew Caylor, one of those guys Colbert hopes to hide on the practice squad until next season.

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