The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished the halfway point of the preseason. Week 3 is known as the dress rehearsal game, which has the starters preparing as if the game were a regular-season one. Week 4 of the preseason is the last chance for bottom-level players to put tape out there for the practice squad and other teams’ consideration.
With that in mind, the Steelers roster is not locked but is much closer to set than it has been. How would the Steelers 53-man roster look if they were to make cuts today?
Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
Rudolph may have claimed the backup job in Week 2 of the preseason. Dobbs has not played well enough to find a trade, but has not played poorly enough to lose his job to Devlin Hodges.
RUNNING BACK (4):
James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Rosevelt Nix
Benny Snell’s surprising special teams prowess has made it easy to keep just four backs, including Nix.
WIDE RECEIVER (6):
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer
Johnny Holton is trying to use special teams to claim a spot, but he is currently on the outside looking in. Could he catch Switzer?
TIGHT END (3):
Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
Gentry was banged up in the second preseason game but looked solid in Week 1. Without competition behind him the team will need the rookie to be healthy in Week 1 of the regular season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8):
Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner
Fred Johnson is pushing to make a case for the 53-man roster while Okorafor and Banner duel for backup tackle duty. The rest is locked in.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6):
Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Dan McCullers
This is very cut and dried with no one close to pushing the group.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5):
T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Ola Adenyi, Tuzar Skipper
Adenyi is not injured enough to go on IR, but will miss regular-season time. That combined with a strong preseason has Skipper in.
(5): Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, Ulysees Gilbert
Gilbert has played his way onto the roster with speed and special teams ability.
Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne
Artie Burns is on the books and has played hungry in camp, making this a fairly decided unit. Brian Allen has played well, but there probably isn’t room for another outside corner.
Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Kameron Kelly
Kelly may get to work in one some dime snaps while Dangerfield is a reliable special teamer. Marcus Allen appears destined for the practice squad.
Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday
The Steelers brought in competition for Boswell, but he has been unphased.
Steelers Sign another from XFL, DE/LB Dewayne Hendrix
The Steelers have signed former Pitt defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, Steelers Now has confirmed. The news of Hendrix’s signing was first reported by NFL Draft Diamonds.
Hendrix, 24, was most recently with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins last season.
In five games with St. Louis, Hendrix made four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.
A two-year starter at Pitt after transferring from Tennessee, Hendrix finished his Panthers career with 50 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He played in 25 games total for Pitt from 2016-18 and made 24 starts.
Hendrix missed the 2016 season with a season-ending ankle injury suffered on the first series of the game. He sat out 2015 at Pitt after playing in seven games with the Volunteers as a true freshman.
At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Hendrix played defensive end at Pitt, but could be more suited to be an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s essentially the same height and weight as starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback
On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.
Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.
From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.
From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.
In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.
In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.
Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)
However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).
What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.
It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.
NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000
All data from Pro Football Reference
What Eric Ebron Can Bring to the Steelers
When the Steelers signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal, these kinds of performances probably helped convince them to make the offer.
The Steel City’s new tight end.
— NFL (@NFL) March 23, 2020
The 6-foot-4, 253-pound tight end shows fantastic body control, great feet, and a penchant for making combat catches over multiple defenders. What’s not to like?
Over the past two seasons, the former 1st round pick of the Detroit Lions is 8th in receptions (97) and yards (1125) and first in touchdowns (17) amongst all tight ends.
Now the bad news. The kind of things you don’t see in highlight videos.
Ebron is last in the NFL over the last two seasons in catch percentage at just 59.9% (50 receptions minimum). That’s 10 points lower than Steelers starter Vance McDonald over the same time period. In 2019 with the Colts, Ebron took a major step back–which can be somewhat excused with Andrew Luck’s retirement–starting only two games. Ebron also had his receptions and yards halved from 2018, 66 to 31 and 750 to 375.
Obviously the Steelers are hoping to get the 2018 version of Ebron that racked up 14 touchdowns and 44 first downs and was sixth in the league in receptions and fifth in yards.
If Ebron can rediscover his red zone magic and thrive with a veteran quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger they could have a dynamic pair of tight ends between he and Vance McDonald.
A big if, but a healthy McDonald and a revitalized Ebron would give the Steelers a receiving tight end combination in the top echelon of the league at a cap hit of under $10,000,000 dollars.