Training Camp has commenced, but with zero preseason games and only nuggets to go off of, which means predicting who will make the roster or fall off the roster is tougher than ever before this year. There may be some competition along the depth chart still, but at this point, the Steelers know who is going to make the final team. As such, here is SteelersNow’s final 53-man roster prediction before the Steelers go to face the New York Giants in two weeks.
Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges
The third quarterback spot was all the rave here, but this is a lean towards Devlin Hodges after a down camp for Paxton Lynch. Lynch, who struggled with his accuracy and consistency in camp, was ousted by Hodges who had some higher highs throughout its entirety. With Lynch seeing no reps in last Friday’s scrimmage, Hodges seems to have won the battle. Mason Rudolph is comfortably Ben Roethlisberger’s backup as both quarterbacks return from injury.
Running Backs (5): James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, Derek Watt
Conner, Snell, and McFarland were locks, and each is looking to impress in 2020 for different reasons. Still, the newsworthy one here is Jaylen Samuels. Battling Kerrith Whyte, Trey Edmunds, and Wendell Smallwood, Samuels was the one guy that seemed to be consistent, with the others dealing with injuries or poor performance. With his receiving ability as an added bonus, Samuels seems like the natural choice to make the roster. Derek Watt will work as the team’s fullback this season.
Wide Receivers (6): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain
Ray-Ray McCloud made a very promising late push to make the final roster, but he came on a little bit too late. Ryan Switzer has entrenched himself onto the roster. He has worked with the first team and made numerous plays, not to mention the rapport and relationship he has with Roethlisberger. McCloud could have knocked Cain off, but Cain offers untapped potential as a big outside threat in case of injury. He proved to be solid last year in limited opportunities and had a few standout days in training camp. His upside and skillset make it hard to keep him off the roster.
Tight Ends (3): Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry
There is nothing too unexpected here. Zach Gentry had a solid enough training camp and solidified his spot if there ever was any doubt that he would not make the squad. Eric Ebron hopes to make an impact this year as the team’s new athletic tight end.
Offensive Line (8): Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Dotson
Yet again, no surprises along the offensive line. The Steelers could keep nine guys here as JC Hassenauer and Derwin Gray are the odd men out given this ranking, but thus far there is no indication that they will sacrifice another position to add another offensive lineman. Okorafor and Banner still are in a tightly contested race for the starting right tackle spot that could not end until the week of the Giants game.
Defensive Line (6): Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs
As expected, the defensive line keeps these six players. There was some push from Henry Mondeaux, Cavon Walker, and Carlos Davis, but it seems unlikely that any of those players will unseat the incumbents at the defensive line. McCullers is back for his seventh season looking slimmer than ever as the backup nose tackle.
Outside Linebackers (5): T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper
There is a bit of contention here for Tuzar Skipper’s job. The signing of Jayrone Elliott puts him on notice, as Elliott is a veteran with experience with the Steelers roster and scheme already. Elliott and Skipper will come down special teams more than anything. It stands to be said that Skipper is by no means a lock given the lack of buzz from training camp on him this year. However, given his fantastic preseason last year and his upside, the Steelers likely do not want to risk him going through waivers. Highsmith and Adeniyi are battling it out to see who will be the primary rotational pass rusher to begin the season.
Inside Linebackers (4): Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane
Once again, this was the expected group heading into training camp. Gilbert is fighting for more snaps in sub-packages as he comes off a season-ending back injury, and with some praise from coaches, it seems he could earn that this season.
Cornerbacks (5): Steven Nelson, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne
This is another spot that is a toss-up. It is unknown if the Steelers will keep five or six cornerbacks, but if they keep six, undrafted free agent James Pierre would likely get the nod to be the sixth guy here with a standout training camp. However, as the Steelers have shown, they are trying to utilize versatile and experienced safeties for depth and special teams help, thus maybe pointing to five safeties being kept.
Safeties (5): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Curtis Riley, Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield
This could be the shakiest and most uncertain group on the roster right now, but over the past week, the competition has seemed to coalesce around Curtis Riley and Marcus Allen. In Edmunds’s absence last week at camp, Riley took additional reps and was impressive by making plays. It seems safe to say his spot is locked now given his starting and special teams experience. Allen has worked with the inside linebackers as well as the safeties. Earning effusive praise from the coaching staff throughout camp, he is primed to take on a hybrid role this season. Dangerfield is the only question mark here, but given he is a core special teamer, it seems likely that Dangerfield would make the final roster over Antoine Brooks with all the turnover on that unit.
Specialists (3): Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kam Canaday
This is pretty par for the course. Berry manages to hold onto his spot even with some competition from Corliss Waitman due to experience and the environment in general.
Practice Squad (16):
QB: Paxton Lynch
RB: Kerrith Whyte, Wendell Smallwood
WR: Ray-Ray McCloud, Amara Darboh
TE: Kevin Rader
OL: JC Hassenauer, Derwin Gray, Jarron Jones
DL: Henry Mondeaux, Carlos Davis
OLB: Jayrone Elliott
CB: Trajan Bandy, James Pierre
S: Antoine Brooks
P: Corliss Waitman
Training Camp Takeaways: Right Tackle Battle as Close as Ever
The Steelers are still vetting their right tackle battle between Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner, and the highly anticipated winner may not be decided until the game day it appears. While Banner and Okorafor have both appeared to have good camps, Mike Tomlin is in no rush to decide who is the winner of the battle, even though the team has to put out an NFL-mandated depth chart on Monday.
“Yeah, you may see ‘or’ listed on that depth chart on Monday,” Tomlin said after the team’s final training camp session of 2020 on Friday.
Tomlin made it very clear that the reason he is in no rush is that he feels both Banner and Okorafor are quality NFL tackles in the NFL. Despite a healthy competition for weeks, neither has separated themselves, and whichever player starts against the New York Giants a week from Monday, there is no guarantee they’ll finish the game at that spot.
“I think it’s been a challenging decision for us because both guys are capable,” Tomlin said. “Both guys have been consistently above the line in their performance. Those are good problems to have. I don’t know if I necessarily view it as a negative thing with whoever gets named starter could have a short leash, et cetera. I think we’ve seen two guys who are capable NFL starters at that position battling it out. That’s why we are not in a hurry to make a decision from my perspective.”
Banner is focused on improving his game after extensively watching his 2019 film. With a full offseason of finally being secure on a 53-man roster, Banner feels like he has an opportunity to win the job over Okorafor.
“Watching film on myself and just focusing on myself is probably the biggest priority I can focus on,” Banner said. “Paying attention to my pass sets and how I’m coming off the ball, both for the run and the pass. Hand usage and being physical. Just things like that. Staying within the parameters of my own mental.”
Defense Shows Out in Seven Shots
In the final seven shots of training camp, the pool report detailed an impressive showing by the defense. The first rep was a miscommunication between Ben Roethlisberger and Diontae Johnson, as Roethlisberger threw it behind Johnson. Minkah Fitzpatrck made a nice play to knock a ball away from Eric Ebron on the next rep.
The next two plays were the two wins for the offense. James Washington caught a quick pass for a touchdown from Roethlisberger. On the next play, the offense pounded the rock in with a Benny Snell touchdown run. However, that was the last victory they Had in the period.
On the next play, Ola Adeniyi knocked down a Mason Rudolph pass at the line of scrimmage. Cam Sutton came roaring off the edge on the sixth rep and that rushed Rudolph to force an incomplete pass. To end off the session, Rudolph targeted Chase Claypool in the end zone, but undrafted free agent James Pierre knocked the ball away from Claypool.
Stephon Tuitt Dismantles the Line
While his return was heavily anticipated by the Steelers, Stephon Tuitt let the team know he was back on Friday. The pool report details an impressive red zone period for the game wrecking defensive lineman who comes off season-ending surgery with high expectations.
Tuitt, on two straight plays, blew right through the offensive lineman in front of him. On both plays, Tuitt got to the quarterback and registered two sacks on the day. After a dominant start to his 2019 season, it is no surprise to see Tuitt destroying offensive lineman. He and Cam Heyward look to be one of the top interior pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
The Question of David DeCastro’s Health
One of the more concerning questions coming into the day was the health of David DeCastro. Tomlin in the past has described his injury as a lower-body injury. He did not practice on Friday. With DeCastro now having been out an entire week with the injury, Tomlin was asked about it at his post-practice press conference to outline his plan for DeCastro.
“He wasn’t good enough to go today,” Tomlin said. “Hopefully, he will be good enough to go the first of next week. We do have a bonus day on Monday. I don’t know if I want to expose him to that. Hopefully, we will see what it looks like as we get into the normal rhythm of our preparation week.”
Tomlin sounded hopeful but by no means certain that DeCastro will be able to suit up against the Giants in just over a week. Should DeCastro not be able to go, Stefen Wisniewski or Kevin Dotson will be the likely replacements to step into his spot.
The Mysterious 53rd Roster Spot
Tuzar Skipper ended up getting released on Friday, and thus far he is the only Steelers roster cut that is known. However, his release throws the final spot on the Steelers roster into limbo. They did sign Jayrone Elliott, who has experience in the system and is a special teams standout. Still, that is no guarantee that Elliott is guaranteed to make the roster. He seems to be the natural fit, but it is not certain.
The other main candidate is standout cornerback Pierre. Pierre has shown up at training camp and made plays against guys like Washington and Claypool. Pierre has also made plays on special teams. It is no guarantee that the team keeps six cornerbacks, but Pierre has a legitimate chance to knock off the fifth outside linebacker in favor of himself with his impressive camp.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/4/20
Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell runs drills to improve their footwork and pass catching abilities while Zach Banner works out with other linemen during Steelers practice at Heinz Field on Friday, September 4, 2020.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Gallery: Steelers Wrap Training Camp at Heinz Field
The Steelers wrapped up their 2020 training camp on Friday with a final practice at Heinz Field before Saturday’s roster cuts. When the team reconvenes on Monday for its first regular-season practice of the year, they’ll do so on the South Side at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the team’s usual practice home.
The Steelers and Pitt Panthers both usually spend nearly all of their practice time on the South Side and the Steelers usually spend training camp at St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pa. So it may be quite some time before another Steelers practice takes place in at Heinz Field.
Here’s one final look at the Black and Gold practicing in their usual game-day digs. Photos courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers.