5 Steelers Fighting for Their NFL Lives this Summer

Steelers Nation finds its hallowed ground on the fields of St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe. Since the mid-60’s the Steelers shifted their home from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium and to Heinz Field but, through it all, St. Vincent’s has remained a constant.

  • Every summer dreams are born at St. Vincent’s.

In 1969 Andy Russell saw Joe Greene toss a veteran aside like a rag doll in his first Oklahoma drill and knew the franchise’s fortunes had changed. 20 years later Bubby Brister earned jeers of from the press for scrawling “Playoffs 89” on a St. Vincent’s chalkboard, later that January after the 1989 Steelers story book season, it was Brister who was laughing.

But if St. Vincent’s is where the Steelers have forged their dynasties then it is also the venue where NFL dreams end:

Dwayne Woodruff, the last of the Super Steelers, drove to Latrobe to call it a career in the summer of 1991 on the first day of what would be Chuck Noll‘s final Steelers training camp. David Little got cut in 1993 when it was clear Levon Kirkland, Jerry Olsavsky, Chad Brown and Reggie Barnes had played him out of a roster spot.

  • Woodruff and Little were lucky.

Their dreams came to an end at St. Vincents only after long careers. Others have not been so lucky, nor will several this summer, as the Steelers first training camp cuts have reminded everyone.

While few players, other than first and second round draft picks, hold down roster spots on merit alone, others make it because they can play a role and for what they will contribute, not what they can contribute.

But there comes a time when the proverbial “Future is now” when players must transform potential in to production, or else get a visit from The Turk.

Steel Curtain Rising now takes a look at 5 Steelers fighting for their NFL lives they work their way into training camp.

Baron Batch
The Steelers drafted Baron Batch in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and during his first training camp he impressed the press, his teammates, and his coaches before tearing his ACL. Batch’s work as both a writer and an artist also gave him a connection with fans.

Batch dutifully went about his rehab and in the Steelers 2012 Training Camp was to be Batch’s time to shine.

  • The good news? Baron Batch was the second leading Steelers running back during the 2012 pre season.
  • The bad news? Despite getting 45% more carries than the next highest back, Batch only managed 3.0 yards a carry and didn’t catch a pass.

Batch made the final regular season roster, at least in part by virtue of the fact that Rashard Mendenhall was recovering from a torn ACL, and Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer were both injured. During the regular season Batch gained 49 yards on 25 carries and had 4 catches for 31 yards.

Having played in 12 games with the Steelers, Batch has no practice squad eligibility left and with the acquisition of Le’von Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft and LaRod Stephens-Howling in free agency, Batch is facing now or never time.

Stevenson Sylvester
The Steelers picked Stvenson Sylvester in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, that year he did what rookie linebackers are supposed to do – he excelled on special teams. Big things were expected of Sylvester in 2011, and injuries to James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and James Farrior would seemingly have been a blessing to Sylvester.

Training camp injuries to several linebackers in 2012 likely saved Sylvester’s spot in 2012. During the year he saw little action at linebacker, and the attention he called to himself on special teams was generally for penalties (ok, we can say that about just everyone last year).

The Steelers chose not to protect Sylvester as a restricted free agent in 2013, yet no one showed an interest (in contrast to Emmanuel Sanders and Steve McLendon) let alone made an offer.

Sylvester’s biggest asset in making the cut in 2012 was his knowledge of Dick LeBeau’s system. This year Marshall McFadden and Adrian Robinson both have a year under their belts.

Clearly Stevenson Sylvester is going to need to do something both special and unexpected to make this roster.

Demarcus Van Dyke
The Steelers thought enough of Van Dyke to commit to his salary for the 2012 season by signing him to prior to their opener vs. Denver. The Steelers had looked at Van Dyke in the 2011 draft, and Van Dyke had the bad luck to be caught in a roster purge in Oakland.

Early on Van Dyke made his presence known, showing off his speed by getting down field on punt coverage. But those flashes faded quickly, and were replaced by special teams foul ups.

  • Corner is one area where the Steelers are deep in, and Van Dyke probably entered camp as the odd man out.

Alameda Ta’amu
The Steelers thought enough of Ta’amu to trade up to get him in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, declaring him as the last pure nose tackle on the board. Pundits quickly declared him as Casey Hampton’s heir apparent, and predicted he would push Steve McClendon, if not Hampton himself, for playing time.

Ta’amu barely got playing time in the pre-season. And of course there was his drunken rampage though the South Side in October. During mini camp he found himself behind Al Woods on the depth cart – despite the fact that Al Woods had never played nose tackle.

Ta’amu entered camp on the PUP list with a bad hamstring, which could leave his already precarious hold on a roster spot hamstrung (pun fully intended)

Ziggy Hood
OK, this one is a bit of a misnomer. Barring injury, Ziggy Hood land a spot on the Steelers 2013 opening day roster.

  • But then what?

Ziggy Hood was a first round pick in 2009 and Steel Curtain Rising singled Hood out in 2010 as one player whom the Steelers needed to ascend for Pittsburgh to contend. Hood stepped in after Aaron Smith’s injury and, after a slow start, caught fire late in the season and during the playoffs, helping spark the team’s appearance in Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, however, little has been seen of Hood. Statistics indicate that on a snap-per-snap basis, fellow first round pick Cameron Heyward out preformed Hood in 2012.

  • Word is that the coaches will give Cameron Heyward a chance to unseat Ziggy Hood as a starter. As well they should.

As Hood enters his 5th summer at St. Vincents the questions he faces are whether he becomes the first bust in a long line of Kevin Colbert first round draft successes, and whether he proves himself worth of a second NFL contract with guaranteed money measured in 7 figures, or a series of contracts for around the veteran minimum….

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