“Only the Best 53 Will Make the Team.”
Every NFL coach says that. It’s required of them. The twist is that some coaches actually mean it. Last year Peter King singled out Green Bay head coach Max McCarthey for putting 4 tight ends on the roster because those guys on the bubble just happened to be a little better than guys on the bubble elsewhere on the depth chart.
Much can be said of the 53 men that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have selected to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 opening day roster.
Mike Tomlin opened Steelers 2012 training camp by affirming that roster spots would be earned based on performance, not on potential or need.
The look of the Steelers initial 53 man roster reveals that Tomlin has put his money where his mouth is.
Here you have your first and best example. When David DeCastro went down, the conventional wisdom was that Batch was a gonner. With all of the injured the Steelers are carrying roster spots are precious.
But as Tomlin has said when Leftwich arrived in 2008, “Let’s let the play speak for itself.” Charlie Batch did that, and he clearly showed why he belongs.
The Steelers have had the NFL’s deepest bullpen at quarterback for almost a decade. The fact that they have three Super Bowl appearances and two victories in that span is no coincidence.
Running Backs (6)
Here’s another example of sacrificing game-day roster depth to keep a guy who is just a little better than those on the bubble in another area.
It’s been a long time since Pittsburgh carried six running backs. And yes, The Steelers do have injury issues at running back.
But Batch’s presence on the final roster probably has less to do with that, and more to do with the fact that he simply added more value to the team than did Toney Clemons and David Gilbraeth, two wide outs on the bubble.
Wide receivers (4)
When was the last time the Steelers went with 4 wide outs? OK, OK, Chris Rainey can split wide, I get that. Rainey’s position flexibility helped here, the fact is that Tomlin only saw four NFL quality wide outs on his training camp roster and those are the four that made the team.
Offensive linemen (9)
This lineup is going to change soon, as David DeCastro is almost certainly headed for IR. Trai Essex might be back.
Tight ends (4)
*Weslye Saunders will begin serving a four game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but he only made the team because he stepped up his play late in the preseason. David Paulson is likely holding a place until Saunders returns, although he could beat out free agent signing Lenoard Pope, who did little to distinguish himself in camp.
Defensive linemen (7)
The off-discussed, slow developing youth movement on the Steelers defensive line has finally gained the upper hand.
Another area riddled with injuries, look for Chris Carter to see a lot of time in addition to Brandon Johnson playing both inside and outside. Lawrence Timmons needs to step up.
The Steelers are only opening with four cornerbacks. Count them, one, two, three, four. In 2009, the Steelers opened with 6.
Again, it’s tempting to attribute this to depth/injury issues elsewhere, but who among the corners cut would be better than someone who was kept at running back, linebacker, or offensive line?
Robert Golden suffered a hamstring injury vs. Carolina in the preseason. That could put his status for the Denver game in doubt, a game where the Steelers will already start without Ryan Clark.
Given that the temptation to keep Damon Cromartie-Smith and cut Golden had to have been great. But Golden outplayed Cromartie-Smith so Tomlin put him on the team instead.
Punter and Kicker (1)
Steel Curtain Rising was a loud advocate of David Harpmann. But for as solid as Harpmann’s kicking was, Suisham also did everything the Steelers asked of him in preseason and he made the team.
On the flip side, Drew Butler had a great camp, and played extremely well in preseason. Unfortunately injuries kept Justin Kapinos from the field and, as Tim McKyer once said of Barry Foster, “You can’t make the club if you’re always in the tub.”
Long snapper (1)
He does only one thing, but fortunately for the Steelers he does it very well.
A New Roster for a New Era
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a single organization that fields a unique team ever year. Yet this team carries more distinctions than previous editions.
And while Bill Cowher’s influence remains strong in terms of quality, it is waning on the quantity front. Even if you assume Trai Essex’s return, the 2012 Steelers will only have 14 players to have strapped on the pads for Bill Cowher.
Pittsburgh Steelers – An Equal Opportunity Employer
Another thing that jumps out is just how diverse the Steelers roster is. Yes, most of the talent is home grown. But after you account for that fact, it’s a melting pot.
If you include DeCastro, 10 former first round picks will hold prominent roles for the Steelers – in other words, all be three of Kevin Colbert’s first round picks remain on the team in prominent roles (the exceptions being Plaxico Burrus, Kendall Simmons, and Santonio Holmes.)
Beyond those ten first round picks you literally have the spectrum represented on the rest of the roster. The opening day defensive line will feature a 7th round pick (Brett Keisel), an unrestricted rookie free agent (Steve McClendon) and a first rounder (Ziggy Hood).
The offensive line boasts similar diversity. From left to right you’ve got a third round pick (Max Starks) playing next to a fourth rounder (Willie Colon) next to a first rounder (Maurkice Pouncey), next to an unrestricted rookie free agent (Ramon Foster), book ended by a second round pick (Marcus Gilbert.)
The message is clear: Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert don’t care about what school you went to or where you were (or weren’t drafted) they only care about your ability.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the Steelers 2012 Season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have built their roster with a solid personnel philosophy.