They [the fans] should look for consistent effort from emerging players on special teams because a lot of these roster-spot battles are going to be determined in that phase. Yes, linebackers are linebackers and running backs are running backs, but what they can do for us outside of their core positions is usually going to determine who stays and who goes.
There will still be spots on the 53-man roster and the practice squad “up for grabs” before the Steelers suit up for their final preseason game against the Panthers tonight. While some positional units are all but “set in stone,” others like Tomlin alluded to such as linebacker and running back are far from settled.
Yesterday I discussed how difficult of a decision it would be for Pittsburgh’s coaching staff to determine who would emerge from the linebacker position, and the race for one of the final linebacker spots could come down to who makes the biggest splash/impact tonight versus Carolina.
Although I believe that Marshall McFadden has the inside track to be the top backup at inside linebacker, Brian Rolle, Terence Garvin, Kion Wilson, and Vince Williams are still on the roster or practice squad bubbles. At outside linebacker, Alan Baxter could force Pittsburgh’s brass to cut veteran Chris Carter if the 2011 fifth round pick cannot play well on special teams.
As far as the running back position is concerned, guys on the roster bubble like LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jonathan Dwyer, and the recently signed Felix Jones are all in need of strong performances tonight on offense and on the special teams units. Due to the fact that neither of these backs are thought to shoulder a large amount of Pittsburgh’s running game load this fall, they will increase their chances of earning a spot on the 53-man roster if they can prove to be effective as return men or on the kickoff and punt coverage units.
I would love nothing more than to see some competent special teams contributors emerge during tonight’s preseason game. Pittsburgh’s special teams, particularly their coverage units, have been mired in mediocrity or just downright ineffective during the last decade so it is an absolute must that they improve this fall under new special teams coach Danny Smith.
While I cannot say for sure who will emerge from the linebacker and running back battles, I do know that those who are named to the roster will have made their presences felt on special teams in addition to their regular positional roles.
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