This process began back on New Year's Eve, and eight months later, the Pittsburgh Steelers are down to 53. In reality, it's most likely just a first draft of their 2014 roster, because more moves could be coming once General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin get a complete look at the waiver wire. But for right now, ladies and gentlemen, these are your 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers:
QUARTERBACKS (3): Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, Ben Roethlisberger
Going into the preseason finale, Mike Tomlin said what he needed to see from second-year pro Landry Jones was "consistent, above-the-line play." Against the Carolina Panthers, Jones played into the third quarter, and while he completed 14-of-18, those passes gained just 97 yards. For the preseason, Jones completed 27-of-44 for 224 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 64.96.
Check out photos of the Steelers' current 53 man roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Chris Hubbard, Wesley Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace**
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak had lobbied for nine spots on the roster, and he got what he wanted. What is somewhat interesting here is the makeup of the nine players, because with Guy Whimper released that means only Gilbert, Beachum, and Adams are tackles. Johnson started 51 games during his college career at Vanderbilt, and 42 of those were at tackle, but he worked at a variety of positions throughout camp and played exclusively at center during the preseason finale. Chris Hubbard, among the final cuts a year ago, spent all of 2013 on the practice squad and earned a roster spot as a backup guard. Hubbard was the guy who moved into the No. 1 left guard spot whenever Ramon Foster was unavailable during training camp.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Daniel McCullers, Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt
There were no surprises here, because once Keisel was re-signed the top six were clear-cut. It will be interesting to see whether the team adds any of the defensive linemen it waived to the practice squad, especially undrafted rookies Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer. Mauro finished the preseason with 10 tackles, two sacks and three pressures, while Hemer had four tackles, one sack, and one pressure.
LINEBACKERS (8): Terence Garvin, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Jason Worilds
The situation at linebacker is somewhat similar to the situation at offensive line in terms of the makeup of the players kept. Keeping eight linebackers is no surprise, but only three of them – Jones, Worilds, and Moats – play the outside. The decision to waive fourth-year pro Chris Carter, a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, might be a surprise to some, but there was an ominous sign regarding his future during the preseason game against the Eagles. In the starting lineup at right outside linebacker because Jones was injured, Carter was benched after losing contain on a pass rush. There had been a growing frustration among the coaches with Carter, whose only pass-rush move during his entire time with the team was to dip his shoulder and try to beat the blocker to the outside. Undrafted rookie Howard Jones would seem to be a prime candidate to be signed to the practice squad, while No. 6a pick Jordan Zumwalt will spend the season on the injured reserve list.
RUNNING BACKS (4): Dri Archer, Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Will Johnson**
With Johnson the only fullback on the roster, and with him doing a lot of work with the tight ends throughout training camp, and with Archer sometimes deployed as a receiver, there was some question whether the Steelers might want to keep another traditional running back in addition to Bell and Blount. As the preseason ended, there didn't appear to be anyone among the other backs who was mounting a real challenge, and so the decision to keep only four made more sense.
SECONDARY (11): Cortez Allen, Will Allen, Antwon Blake, William Gay, Robert Golden, Brice McCain, Mike Mitchell, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Shamarko Thomas, B.W. Webb
One of the challenging aspects of putting together this initial 53-man roster is compensating for any players who might not be available for the start of the season because of an injury sustained late in the preseason. McCain would seem to fit into that category because of the groin injury he sustained in the preseason finale. The addition of Webb via the waiver wire means the Steelers will have six cornerback and five safeties on this initial roster. Among these final 22 cuts was No. 5a pick Shaquille Richardson, but as the preseason wore on his inability to practice or be available for games hurt his chances.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Antonio Brown, Justin Brown, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Lance Moore, Markus Wheaton
This could have been a situation similar to the defensive backfield in that an injury in the preseason finale may have impacted the number of players kept here. Martavis Bryant sustained an injury to his AC joint in the preseason finale, and while there hasn't been an update on his status, that type of injury generally sidelines a player for a week or two. Heading into the last preseason game, conventional wisdom had it that Justin Brown, Derek Moye, and Darrius Heyward-Bey were competing for the final spot or two on the depth chart here. By the time training camp and the preseason were over, Heyward-Bey clearly was the best receiver among those three players, and he also was praised by Tomlin for being a willing contributor on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS (3): Heath Miller, Michael Palmer, Matt Spaeth
Would the Steelers try to steal a roster spot here by utilizing Will Johnson as a combination fullback/tight end and possibly use Mike Adams as an extra blocking tight end as they did last season. Maybe there will be some snaps for both Adams and Johnson at tight end, but the Steelers still decided to keep three, with Palmer being the third. Palmer's contributions on special teams might have tipped the scales in his favor.
SPECIALISTS (3): Shaun Suisham, Greg Warren, Brad Wing
The primary concern here was whether Warren would be sufficiently healed from his meniscus surgery to be ready for the start of the regular season. Warren said he practiced fully on the day before the preseason finale, and it's a certainty the Steelers had him back in the training room following that game to see how his knee reacted. As for Wing, he impressed Tomlin as an on-the-rise player over the course of the summer, but the Steelers figure to scan the waiver wire for punters just to do their due diligence.