Again, there are three quarterbacks. But this year there are only four running backs, and two of those technically are fullbacks. For the second straight year, there are 11 defensive backs, and for the first time in very long time there are 10 linebackers. Some of the moves they made to get to this 53-man group can be called surprises, but most of them cannot.
The Steelers announced their opening 53-man roster today by making 18 cuts, putting two more on the waived/injured list, putting two guys on the suspended list, and adding a second-year player at cornerback. Yesterday, the team traded punter Brad Wing to the New York Giants for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2016 draft.
"We've been going through some procedural things with the roster," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "Those things are ongoing, and probably will be ongoing for the next day or so as other teams make their decisions and we evaluate what's available. Just normal procedure for us. We got a little bit of our business done, what with our first game coming on Thursday, but we'll keep an eye on what's going on in other cities and the things that might help us be better."
The 18 players cut included running backs Jawon Chisholm and Josh Harris; defensive linemen Matt Conrath, Ethan Hemer, and Mike Thornton; safeties Jordan Dangerfield, Alden Darby, and Gerod Holliman; offensive linemen Reese Dismukes, B.J. Finney, and Doug Legursky; cornerbacks Kevin Fogg and B.W. Webb; linebackers L.J. Fort, Shayon Green, and Howard Jones; and wide receivers Shakim Phillips and Jarrod West.
Waived injured were offensive linemen Kelvin Palmer and Mitchell Van Dyk. Signed was cornerback Ross Cockrell, a 6-foot, 190-pound player who entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills and appeared in seven games as a rookie.
"We liked him when he came out of Duke, a smart guy, a savvy coverage guy who has good man skills," said Tomlin. "He has long arms. We're excited about getting to know him and infusing him into our equation."
The two players put on the suspended list were Le'Veon Bell, who'll miss the first two games, and Martavis Bryant, who will miss the first four.
"It really didn't present challenges. It clarified some of the challenges associated with putting together the 53," said Tomlin about the suspensions. "Often you spend a lot of time debating over guys Nos. 50-55 and how to sort those guys out. Having those two additional spots minimized that discussion."
It's possible that having those two additional spots allowed the Steelers to open with two fullbacks – Will Johnson and Roosevelt Nix – among their four running backs. It's likely the team is looking hard at the names on the waiver wire for someone to add at a running back spot that right now contains only DeAngelo Williams and Dri Archer.
"Will Johnson is multiple, he has played some tight end as well. Roosevelt Nix has really done some good things, not only as a fullback but as a core special teams player," said Tomlin. "He had the splash play against Carolina with the punt block, but he also had some quality punt coverage opportunities during the last month or so. We're going to utilize those guys in a variety of ways because they've shown they're capable.
"Replacing a guy as dynamic as Le'Veon is not a one-man job but a multiple-man job."
The Steelers made eight picks in the 2016 draft, and Holliman was the only to be among those waived. Second-round pick Senquez Golson is on injured reserve, and the other six – Bud Dupree, Sammie Coates, Doran Grant, Jesse James, L.T. Walton, and Anthony Chickillo all were among the initial 53.
"They've done a nice job of working, and a lot of guys have helped themselves by being in relatively good shape," said Tomlin about that 2016 draft class. "Collectively the group is still figuring out what professional shape is about. The veteran guys have done a nice job of helping them, particularly positionally. Guys like Heath and Spaeth are great for young guys like Jesse James, but you can say that about all the positions. These guys have earned the spots they have, and we'll see if they earn roles as we start to prepare for football games, and then we'll see if those roles expand based on performance."
Tomlin and his staff will welcome the team back tomorrow for the first day of the week's preparation for the regular season opener against the New England Patriots at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 10 at Gillette Stadium. And those 53 should understand that there still can be changes made before the 2015 Steelers board that plane on Wednesday for the trip to Foxborough.
"We're going to look at the market, like I said, not only at the running back position but at all positions over the next 24-48 hours, because that's just standard business for us," said Tomlin. "It does make it a little bit unique because we're playing on Thursday night instead of Sunday, but we're not going to let that change our perspective on how we put together our 53."