Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers released the first edition of their depth chart. This is Steeler Nation’s first look of, not only how the new team will look, but how the coaching staff views the newest additions to the team. Of course we see names like Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Minkah Fitzpatrick at the top of the chart, but what about names that are new to Pittsburgh? With that said, here are my five first impressions of the depth chart:
1. The Center Position isn’t Finalized
After the retirement of long-time center Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers fans were anxiously awaiting the next name to lead the offensive line. After watching the Steelers draft Kendrick Green out of Illinois in May, fans were expecting to see Green grow into the next starting center. However, two-year man J.C. Hassenauer is listed as starting center. This is most likely due to Hassenauer already having some experience at center in Pittsburgh and is familiar with Roethlisberger and the offense. But as we get closer to September, I anticipate Green will earn the starting center role. Green has worked with the starting offensive in OTA’s, minicamp, and the first week of training camp. I’m sure the main reason as to why he’s not the listed starter is due to him being a young rookie who is still learning. Look for Green to start at center on opening day.
2. Quarterback Depth is in Flux
We know Roethlisberger is QB1. We expected Mason Rudolph to be QB2. But where the quarterback position will get interesting is at QB3. With the offseason acquisition of Dwayne Haskins, fans were excited to see him contend for the first back-up spot with Rudolph. We still have the full preseason to watch this shake out, but regardless, this will leave Josh Dobbs left out. Roethlisberger and Dobbs have a great relationship and Dobbs has great football intellect, but I’d be shocked if Dobbs makes the final roster over Haskins. The practice squad may be Dobbs’ saving grace for his career in Pittsburgh, but I expect to see Roethlisberger, Rudolph, then Haskins to round out the quarterback position going into the regular season.
3. The Running Back Room is Full
After an awful rushing attack in 2020, the Steelers drafted Najee Harris to bring back the strong, physical, resilient running game Steelers fans love. But after Harris, who else will step up? Although there have been great running backs in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have historically rotated two or three backs throughout games. For example, we’ve seen Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redman, Gary Russell, and Fitzgerald Toussaint play critical roles in the offense as back-up running backs. Looking at the depth chart, we see Benny Snell Jr. as RB2, with Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and Kalen Ballage fighting for the third and fourth running back roles. We know new offensive coordinator Matt Canada is looking to integrate different styles of running backs in the offense and it’ll be interesting to see who steps up in the preseason. For my way-too-early opinion, I see Harris, McFarland, Snell, and Ballage to be on the roster after training camp.
4. There is Plenty of Depth at Linebacker
Vince Williams’ retirement came as a surprise to Steelers fans. After being cut earlier in the offseason, Williams was re-signed as a presumed starter. Now that Williams is gone, we see Robert Spillane listed as the starting inside linebacker paired with Devin Bush. Behind Spillane, we see three-year men Ulysees Gilbert III and Marcus Allen, rookie Buddy Johnson, Tegray Scales, and Jarvis Miller all competing for roster spots at inside linebacker. Looking at the edge, we already expected to see T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to be listed as starters, with newly-acquired Melvin Ingram, veteran Cassius Marsh, and rookies Quincy Roche, Jamar Watson, and Jamir Jones all jockeying for back-up roles. The good news for Steelers fans is that every linebacker listed on the Steelers’ depth chart could be starters in the NFL. We know all too well that depth at linebacker, both inside and outside, is critical to a winning season and the Steelers definitely have that. Come September, I anticipate Ingram and Roche to clinch the back-up spots behind Watt and Highsmith, with Johnson, Gilbert, and Allen backing up Bush and Spillane inside.
5. The Competition for Punter Will be Interesting
When the Steelers used their final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft on Pressley Harvin III, veteran Jordan Berry was put on notice. The punter position hasn’t necessarily been a strength for the Steelers in recent seasons, but they’re looking to change that in 2021. After a sub-standard preseason in 2020, Berry was cut in favor of veteran free agent Dustin Colquitt, only to be re-signed later in the season. The 2020 season was Berry’s best, with an average of 45.8 yards per punt. For Harvin in 2020, he averaged about 48 yards per punt at Georgia Tech. Berry is currently listed as the starting punter, but look for Harvin III to make a strong run at the starting punter position. There is room for only one punter on the roster, and I see Harvin III eventually winning the starting role.
What are your first impressions of the depth chart? Let us know in the comment section below!