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Roster Cut Down Breakdown

I know a lot of years, there is lamenting and gnashing of teeth about players that were cut or got away during the cut down process. This year, we did cut some talent, but I don’t feel badly about any of them leaving the team.. I think this roster was crafted to maintain optimal talent paired with young potential.

At tight end, the last spot came down to Grimble and Johnson. Johnson is position flexible, but when the talent at FB and TE3 both are better than a player that can do both, being position flexible doesn’t matter. Xavier showed he can make plays with his hands (or hand by one handing a TD). And also blocking, when he blocked 3 guys on an edge rush to his side. His blocking is improving, but in true run situations, an extra tackle, or Nix can line up and do the same job better than Johnson. Still we went with talent at both FB and TE to replace a player that would have had less of an impact at both positions.

The Wide receiver cuts were expected, if you’ve seen the trends the past few weeks. Justin Hunter received a lot of snaps early in training camp, and finished it off by continuing to be productive throughout the preseason. Heyward-Bey didn’t get much work and had even fewer targets, but game 3 showed he is our top gunner. Making multiple tackles and always being the first down field. Coates had opportunities. He was on the field a lot, but he wasn’t making the plays, nor was he getting open. I also felt that his routes were sloppy and confusing to the QBs trying to target him. Kudos to Colbert for getting a draft pick out of what would have been a sure cut. Ayres and Tucker are two very talented, young receivers. Both with great hands, and savvy route running, but they were caught up in the numbers game. I expect one or both being placed on the practice squad, and Ayres would be my top choice. Still, Hunter was the most talented of the back end WRs and showed that the coaching staff wants talent over comfort.

Running back got very interesting. Touissant and Davis were veteran backs, and both had kick return experience. Bell wasn’t in camp, and Conner was banged up for a few weeks of camp, so these running backs had plenty of time to shine. Instead of a veteran seizing that opportunity, a big, young back showed speed, power, and potential. He had the want and desire to gain yardage, and was successful in short yardage situations as well. It was a surprise for the Steelers to take a younger, more talented back, over a less talented, yet consistent veteran, but it was the right choice to improve the overall talent here.

On defense there wasn’t any big surprises on DL or LB. Steven Johnson is a good backer, but Fort and Matakevich are better. Outside, Kion Adams was a young player showing talent to make the roster, but will be redshirted on IR this year. Big Dan making the team over Maxey is a mild surprise, but McCullers is the bigger player and also is in a lot of special teams packages, so I can see why he was kept.

The secondary is where the interesting cuts were made. The coup of getting Hayden, paired with the demotion of Cockrell, meant the writing was on the wall that Cockrell would not be retained. Cockrell can only play outside CB, and can not play the slot. Cockrell had some good play for the Steelers D in the past, but this preseason, he was regressing. His play declined to the point that Tomlin was actively promoting Sensabaugh before the Steelers picked up 2 more CBs in a week. That trend alone means the coaches weren’t happy with the personnel at CB. Hilton was the training camp darling this year. He was making plays daily in practice, then when he got into games, he jumped off the screen with his impact. He rightfully earned a roster spot. The Steelers chose to keep younger players with more potential at CB by retaining rookies Allen and Sutton over a veteran in Phillips, who was traded for. Golson is also finally off of the roster. He had no luck staying healthy, and it just isn’t worth the roster spot anymore. However, Golson is practice squad eligible and I would expect the Steelers to attempt to retain him on potential alone, should he get healthy enough to actually show it. At Safety, Jacob Hagen was cut and showed a lot of potential defending the pass and making tackles. I expect him to be placed on the practice squad as well.

On special teams, we only have to discuss the long snapper. I’m not upset for the Steelers keeping Kameron Canaday over Colin Holba, since he was the better snapper this preseason. I’m upset that Holba was drafted in the first place. Long snappers do not need to be drafted. They are normally picked up as undrafted free agent rookies and earn spots on rosters through consistent play. I hope Colbert has learned this lesson, not to use a draft resource on a long snapper, when we have the potential to bolster depth at other positions on the team.

So there we have it. The players retained have more talent than the players that were cut. It is a slight diversion from retaining more steady, less talented veterans, but by the end of the season, a more talented roster can help you get over the hump and through the playoffs, should injury or performance issues occur.

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