Just days before their first action of preseason play, the Pittsburgh Steelers have released their initial depth chart for the 2019 season, as required of all teams in the NFL. With fresh faces in a lineup that failed to secure postseason play just last season, a number of position battles have emerged as the team prepares for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this upcoming Friday.
As Bob Labriola from Steelers.com points out, Tomlin is not a fan of early depth charts. As a result, he will typically fill them with a carryover of the previous season and fill remaining spots in alignment with experience. With the aforementioned facts stated, Steelers fans will need to indulge themselves in the performance of players in the first half of the preseason to get a remote idea of the actual depth chart Tomlin and his staff are putting together. However the depth chart was released, and thus we must accept it as information, even with a grain of salt.
A look at the first depth chart released by the Steelers:
Returning Starters: Ben Roethlisberger, Roosevelt Nix, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, all offensive linemen (LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Matt Feiler).
Prominent Veteran Arrivals: Donte Moncrief finds himself starting opposite of Smith-Schuster.
Rookies: Benny Snell is third on the running back depth chart behind Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Both Zach Gentry and Diontae Johnson find themselves at the fifth depth chart spot in their respective positions.
Notable Backups: Ryan Switzer sits ahead of Eli Rogers as the fourth receiver on the Steelers depth chart. Josh Dobbs currently ranks as the second string quarterback ahead of Mason Rudolph. Jerald Hawkins is the third right tackle, while Chukwuma Okorafor sits behind Villanueva at left tackle. Xavier Grimble sits behind McDonald as the second string tight end.
Position Battles to Watch: Switzer/Rogers battle for supremacy (and perhaps ultimately a roster spot) headlines the offensive position battles. Fans continue to monitor the backup quarterback situation, as Rudolph/Dobbs continue to battle it out. Feiler is believed to have wrapped up the right tackle position, yet could see competition.
Returning Starters: Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, Joe Haden, Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Mike Hilton.
Prominent Veteran Arrivals: Mark Barron steps in as the second starting middle linebacker opposite of Williams. Steven Nelson starts opposite of Haden at the right cornerback spot.
Rookies: Devin Bush currently sits behind Barron at the LILB spot. Justin Layne ranks as the third cornerback behind Haden and Brian Allen. Isaiah Buggs also sees himself as third at his respective position, playing behind Heyward and Lavon Hooks. Ulysees Gilbert starts as the third middle linebacker Williams/Tyler Matakevich. Sutton Smith also ranks as the third left outside linebacker behind Watt and Anthony Chickillo.
Notable Backups: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will look to put pressure on Dupree as his back-up at the ROLB spot. Allen and Artie Burns anchor the second cornerback positions behind Haden/Nelson. Marcus Allen/Jordan Dangerfield are the second string safeties behind Davis/Edmunds. Cameron Sutton is listed as the second nickel cornerback behind Hilton. Marcus Allen will look to pressure Davis at the free safety spot.
Position Battles: As Bush is expected to start, the rotation between himself, Williams and Barron is one of the more interesting events to monitor. Majority of the defense is set, but Marcus Allen and P.J. Locke could be an interesting battle to monitor between the two physical secondary players. Burns’ play in the secondary will ultimately determine his play time, and evetually whether or not he is on the roster past 2019.
Returning Starters: Jordan Berry, Chris Boswell, Kameron Canaday, Ryan Switzer.
Prominent Arrivals: Rookie Diontae Johnson looks to provide a boost with his speed/agility in the return game.
Notable Backups: Rookie Matthew Wright is the current backup to Boswell. Ian Berryman backs up Jordan Berry. Smith-Schuster is the backup kick returner.
Position Battles: Competition is expected to heat up between Boswell/Wright, although many expect Boswell to retain his role for 2019. Johnson/Switzer may be an interesting battle to watch for return duties.
Steelers Place Samuels, Washington on COVID-19 List, Release 8
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels and wide receiver James Washington have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Sunday.
This brings the team total to four players on the reserve/COVID-19. Pittsburgh placed defensive backs Justin Layne and Arrion Springs on the list last week.
The team also announced the release of eight players on Sunday. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, running back Ralph Webb, returner Quadree Henderson, offensive lineman Christian Montano, long snapper Christian Kuntz, defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, safety Tyree Kinnel and defensive end Josiah Coatney were all waived. Henderson and Hendrix were former standouts at Pitt, while Kuntz played his college ball at Duquesne.
The reserve/COVID-19 designation was created for players who have either tested positive for the virus, or have been in close contact with an infected individual. Players can be removed from the list once they have been medically cleared. There is no limit to the amount of players a club can place on the list.
A second-round pick in 2018 out of Oklahoma State, Washington is coming off a productive sophomore season that saw him catch 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns. He played in 15 games last year, starting ten.
Selected in the fifth round of the same draft out of NC State, Samuels has turned into a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, snagging 47 receptions for 305 yards and a score in 2019. He also carried the ball 66 times for 175 yards and a touchdown.
While they are not the first Steelers to receive the designation, Samuels and Washington are definitely more crucial to the team’s immediate plans than Layne and Springs. Getting them healthy and back on the field will be paramount, as the Steelers look to improve on their disastrous offensive output from a year ago with the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Steelers, Heyward Have Made Little Progress Towards Extension, Per Agent
The Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive end Cam Heyward are no closer to agreeing to a long-term contract extension, according to the star’s agent.
Speaking with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Heyward’s agent Michael Perrett of Element Sports Group divulged that the team and his client have made no significant advances towards a new deal.
Perrett reaffirmed that Heyward still wants to retire as a Steeler, but acknowledged that COVID-19 has made the path to an agreement more challenging.
“I thought we’d be further along in the process. In a normal year, we might be,” he told ESPN. “The current situation has led to a lot of uncertainty, but NFL business is still moving forward. Cam would love to retire a Steeler, but at this point, he just doesn’t know how all of this is going to play out.”
According to Fowler, Heyward is not considering holding out, mainly because of his position in the team as a captain and player rep.
Heyward, 31, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2019. With nine sacks, eleven tackles-for-loss and 23 quarterback hits, Heyward earned Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors a year ago. His 79 tackles-for-loss are the fourth-most in franchise history.
While other high-profile pass rushers have signed new deals this offseason, including the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, the Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, Heyward still waits.
Even though the Steelers tend to avoid in-season contract negotiations and little progress has been made thus far, the two sides still have the month of August to work out a deal.
Still, if they are not able to get something prior to the season opener, you would think the organization would make an exception for Heyward, considering his desirable combination of leadership and ability.
He has remained consistent that he wants to retire in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would be wise to make his wish a reality.
Mike Tomlin on Rookie Development Under COVID Restrictions
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin made no excuses while explaining the difficulty in developing rookies under the COVID guidelines.