Let's get to it:
KEITH SMOLKOWICZ FROM LAWRENCEVILLE, GA:
There have been a lot of upset people online over Doran Grant being cut, among other moves the Steelers made over the Labor Day Weekend. It sounds as though the main scapegoat is Kevin Colbert for not being a better talent evaluator. Is this a general overreaction by pundits and fans alike? Or is there some validity to concerns over Colbert's inability to draft good defensive backs talent?
Here is the 53 man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers as announced on Saturday, September 5, 2015.
In between the time your question was submitted and this installment of Asked and Answered made it to the website, both Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo had cleared waivers and had been signed to the practice squad. Maybe that mollifies a portion of the horde, but most likely not. If you'll allow me, I'm going to make an attempt to explain the rationale behind a bunch of the moves the Steelers have made recently, with the acknowledgement that the only way to judge the moves is by waiting for the results. Maybe that mollifies a portion of the horde, but most likely not.**
The NFL's preseason schedule concluded on Thursday, Sept. 3, with all 32 teams getting it over with as early as possible so that the business of the regular season could begin. In Pittsburgh and Foxborough, that business had to start earlier than anywhere else because the Steelers and Patriots opened the season within a week of Sept. 3, which meant those teams had to have their rosters set for a regular season practice on Saturday, Sept. 5, and it was 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5 that was the deadline for roster cuts to 53 players. So the Steelers made their cuts and assembled what practice squad they could, because, again, they were on the practice field when a bunch of other teams were just turning in their cuts to the league office.
Back to the roster. Included among that initial wave of activity affecting the Steelers' original 53 was the signing of cornerback Ross Cockrell, a fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2014 and a player the Bills hoped to sneak through waivers following a preseason in which he had been slowed by some minor injuries. Knowing they are still in the process of re-making their secondary and remembering how they liked him coming from Duke, the Steelers added him to the mix.
The guys the Steelers could get onto the first configuration of their practice squad had to have cleared waivers by Friday, Sept. 4 – a full day before final cuts even had to be made, remember – and so that group was what you might expect it to be, based on when it had to be constructed, because again, for the Steelers, that Saturday practice was the start of the installation of the game plan for the Patriots. They had to be ready for business with a full complement of players. Still, to use a word to describe that practice squad, let's go with "uninspiring." As for the makeup of the original 53-man roster, it ended up being what training camp and the preseason had dictated it be. Top-heavy with linebackers and defensive backs, but there really weren't any surprises.
On Sunday, Sept. 6, the Steelers added running back Jordan Todman from Carolina and defensive end Caushaud Lyons from Tampa Bay to their 53-man roster to strengthen a couple of positions that needed reinforcements. Todman will be the primary backup to DeAngelo Williams for the length of Le'Veon Bell's suspension, and what he showed against the Steelers in the preseason finale was more than Josh Harris showed throughout the entire camp/preseason process. Todman also can contribute on kickoff returns. Lyons is a developmental type, but at 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, he ran a 4.87 at his pro day and showed some promise as a pass rusher through the Bucs' preseason.
Grant and Chickillo were waived to make room for Todman and Lyons, but today, they're back with the Steelers, on the practice squad. By the time those moves became official on Labor Day night, the practice squad had been re-tooled to include ILB L.J. Fort, who made a couple of plays in the preseason after the Steelers claimed him off waivers from the Patriots; WR Shakim Phillips, who had done the same; and Barrett Jones, who started at right guard for one Alabama team that won the national championship, and then at left tackle for another Alabama team that won a national championship, and then at center for a third Alabama team that won a national championship. That's decent practice squad insurance along the offensive line.**
So, to summarize: seven of the eight draft picks from 2016 either made the roster or the practice squad or are on injured reserve; the Steelers used the waiver wire to add reinforcements at running back, defensive end, and cornerback; and among those on the practice squad is a versatile offensive lineman who could play center in the event of a rash of injuries there, plus a couple of their own draft picks who showed some promise during the summer. It also bears mentioning that the Steelers traded a 2016 draft pick for Brandon Boykin, called one of the best slot cornerbacks in football and a guy who tied for second in the NFL in interceptions in 2013; and they also traded for an established, veteran placekicker in Josh Scobee after injuries sidelined Shaun Suisham and then Garrett Hartley.
This is how the Steelers are going to start the 2015 season, and the above is an attempt at an explanation of how they got here.
To address another aspect of your question: Since Kevin Colbert was hired in 2000, the Steelers have drafted 19 defensive backs. Of those 19, Troy Polamalu was a superstar and a likely inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; three others were/are quality NFL starters – William Gay, Keenan Lewis, and Bryant McFadden; and two others had nice NFL careers – Hank Poteat and Ryan Mundy. There also are three guys I would say still have a chance to become decent players – Cortez Allen, Senquez Golson, and Doran Grant. Gerod Holliman isn't on a roster right now, but as a rookie it's not fair to give up on his career just yet. That leaves nine guys who qualify as misses: LaVar Glover, Ricardo Colclough, Anthony Smith, Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Curtis Brown, Terence Frederick, Terry Hawthorne, and Shaquille Richardson. Of those nine, the busts, in my opinion, were Colclough and Smith, because they were No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively.
JOHN SIMONETTI FROM HOPE, N.J.:
How many of the defensive backs who were drafted this spring made their team's 53-man rosters? We are so critical about the Steelers not drafting to reinforce this area, and yet I wonder how many end up making rosters immediately.
There were 47 defensive backs picked over the seven rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft, and as of Monday, Sept. 7, 32 of those were on their teams' 53-man rosters.
DAVID TAITANO FROM BARRIGADA, GUAM:
The Cowboys are referred to as "America's team." Is it true the Steelers were originally given that title some time ago?
When the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls for the second time during the 1970s, NFL Films approached the Rooneys about referring to them as America's Team for their 1979 highlights film. Art Rooney Sr. who vetoed the idea, and his response to Ed and Steve Sabol of NFL Films was said to be that "the Steelers are Pittsburgh's team." Rooney wasn't real keen on such a "look at us" label. Subsequently NFL Films approached the Cowboys with the same idea, and not surprisingly they were receptive to accepting that adulation.
JIM BOURKE FROM NEW BEDFORD, MA:
Are Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons practicing this week for the game against the Patriots?
Yes. Both Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons have been full participants in every practice leading up to tonight's game against the Patriots.
ALAN STRAIGHT FROM HICKORY, N.C.:
My wife and I have both noticed the thin, tight bands some of the players wear on their biceps. What is the purpose of these bands?
Strictly decorative. Do you think those bands make the biceps look bigger? Because that's the general idea behind it.