(Another in a series examining the Steelers' 90-man roster as the team heads to training camp to begin the process of cutting down to 53 players in advance of the 2020 regular season.)
ON THE ROSTER NOW: J.C. Hassenauer, John Keenoy, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Christian Montano, Kevin Dotson, Jarron Jones, Chuks Okorafor, Stefen Wisniewski, Zach Banner, Anthony Coyle, Christian DiLauro, Matt Feiler, Derwin Gray, Alejandro Villanueva.
ON THE ROSTER IN SEPTEMBER: Mike Tomlin never has kept more than nine offensive linemen. In fact, in the years when the line was in transition – 2012, 2013 and 2015 – he kept only eight. The staff went strictly with what they had on hand and didn't attempt to guess on potential projects. That could be the case this season as only eight linemen appear to be locks. There are a couple of young players who could press that number with breakout camps, but in a limited preseason, let's take a gamble here and say they keep only eight.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT: The Steelers allowed 32 sacks last season, a 33 percent increase over 2018 and the most they've given up since 2015. But let's not view that as problematic since, again, the Steelers were working with novice quarterbacks, which sometimes hindered the offense's ability to get into the right play and set the blocking. But what we can view as problematic is the fact that three of the four tackles with any experience are, at this point, headed into the final seasons of their contracts. That's the stat that stands out today.
KEY DEPARTURES: The retirement of underrated left guard Ramon Foster will be felt on the field and in the locker room. As the most experienced vet, and the only Steelers lineman to have played in a Super Bowl, Foster was a key to team and unit chemistry. Also gone is his versatile backup, B.J. Finney, who cried publicly the day he signed as an undrafted rookie with his favorite childhood team. Last year's undrafted rookie on the opening-day roster, Fred Johnson, was lost to Cincinnati in mid-October amid a roster shuffle. The Bengals believe they got a steal in Johnson, who started their last game at left tackle.
KEY ADDITIONS: Feiler moves over to left guard to replace Foster, but the key acquisition, Wisniewski, was signed in free agency to replace Finney as, primarily, the backup center. Wisniewski, of course, is also experienced at both guard spots. A Pittsburgh native out of Central Catholic High School and Penn State, Wisniewski is a 10th-year player who has started 109 NFL games and won two rings. He, in fact, started for the Chiefs in last year's Super Bowl after starting three years ago for the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Another addition to keep an eye on is Jones, a tackle who was a defensive end at Notre Dame and was one of the more prized players coming out of the XFL last spring.
THE SKINNY: The key move to fill the left guard spot is bringing Feiler over from right tackle. That allows young tackles Okorafor and Banner to compete in earnest for playing time, and affords the coaches a look at what they really have before the front office decides what to do about contract extensions at a critical position. The Feiler move also allows the staff to prepare Wisniewski as the backup center. Coaches dislike making multiple in-game changes in the event of an injury to the center and the backup center was the starting left guard. Feiler's flexibility could also allow coaches to easily move him back over should the situation require and Wisniewski could be installed as the starting left guard. That would provide last year's practice-squad center, Hassenauer, a better opportunity for a roster spot after showing potential last season. Dotson, the seemingly talented fourth-round draft pick, is in the mix. There aren't worries at center and right guard with veteran leaders Pouncey and DeCastro, and we can expect left tackle Villanueva to anchor the left side of the line.* NEXT: Defensive Line*