Analysis: Time to make cuts
Time to cut to the chase.
To 65 by Tuesday• To 53 by 4 p.m. Sept. 4?
Well, because running back Jerome Bettis was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday, that's why. Bettis' status relative to his calf and fellow running back Duce Staley's continued rehabilitation from arthroscopic knee surgery are the primary issues the Steelers are wrestling with.
The good news is they'll only have to cut to 71 by Tuesday thanks to six NFL Europe roster exemptions.
That will afford the Steelers plenty of time to sort out who's healthy enough to do what at running back.
Assuming Staley remains on schedule with his rehab, Bettis isn't a long-term concern and nothing dramatic or unforeseen happens in the preseason finale Thursday night at Carolina, the Steelers' final 53 may wind up looking a great deal like the following 53:
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger (2), Tommy Maddox (9), Charlie Batch (8). Cut: Brian St. Pierre (3).
St. Pierre is appreciably improved, but Batch's 46 career starts make him a more viable alternative as a No. 2 in the event Roethlisberger or Maddox should go down.
Running back (5): Staley (9), Bettis (13), Verron Haynes (4), Willie Parker (2), Dan Kreider (6). Cut: Noah Herron (R), Matt Cushing (7), John Kuhn (R), Zach Tuiasosopo (R).
Parker appears to have supplanted Haynes for the third-down back position, but both will make the final roster (Haynes' experience is invaluable right about now).
Herron has promise but would be well served by a year on the practice squad (a luxury the Steelers might not be able to afford themselves pending resolution of the Staley-Bettis dilemma).
Cushing's versatility (he can also play tight end as well as backup at fullback), special-teams prowess and seasons of service make him an agonizingly tough cut, but the chances are he'll only be a phone call away if needed down the road.
Kreider, who's seemingly indestructible, can be backed up at fullback from the practice squad and given an occasional blow by a tight end in the backfield, a concept the Steelers are beginning to embrace on occasion.
Tight end (3): Jerame Tuman (7), Heath Miller (R), Walter Rasby (11). Cut: Matt Kranchick (2).
Drafting Miller No. 1 meant bad news for Tuman, eventually, and Kranchick, immediately.
Rasby might be the best blocker on the team, and with the running back situation relatively shaky, blocking has never been more of a concern.
Wide receiver (6): Hines Ward (8), Antwaan Randle El (4), Cedrick Wilson (5), Nate Washington (R), Lee Mays (4), Sean Morey (4). Cut: Fred Gibson (R), Chris Collins (1), Chris Doering (8), Zamir Cobb (1), Walter Young (3).
Gibson, a No. 4 pick in April, is on his way to becoming the highest draft pick not to make the team since Danny Farmer (WR, fourth round) in 2000.
Washington's going to make the team even if Gibson's draft status somehow earns him a reprieve.
And even if Gibson receives one, he isn't going to dress on Sundays (he's been that unreliable).
Offensive line (9): Marvel Smith (6), Alan Faneca (8), Jeff Hartings (10), Kendall Simmons (4), Max Starks (2), Barrett Brooks (10), Trei Essex (R), Chris Kemoeatu (R), Chukky Okobi (5). Cut: Ben Claxton (1), Joe Iorio (1), Jake Verstraete (R), Josh Burr (1), Jim Jones (2), Morgan Davis (R), Ulish Booker (R).
Jones can play, but Kemoeatu has been displaying the potential to dominate of late.
Claxton gets the nod over Jones for the practice squad because Claxton can play guard as well as center.
Memo to Smith and Starks: stay healthy.
Defensive line (6): Kimo von Oelhoffen (12), Casey Hampton (5), Aaron Smith (7), Brett Keisel (4), Chris Hoke (5), Travis Kirschke (9). Cut: Grant Bowman (1), Elliot Harris (R), Eric Taylor (1), Shaun Nua (R).
Bowman's well thought of, but Taylor can play end or nose tackle, which will probably earn him a spot on the final 53 next season.
Linebacker (8): Joey Porter (7), James Farrior (9), Larry Foote (4), Clark Haggans (6), James Harrison (2), Clint Kriewaldt (7), Rian Wallace (R), Dedrick Roper (1). Cut: Andre Frazier (R), Alonzo Jackson (3), Ron Stanley (R), Arnold Harrison (R).
Finally, the Jackson mistake (No. 2 in 2003) will be acknowledged. A virtual coin-flip between Frazier and Roper comes up Roper's way because he had a little more experience, having been through an additional camp and a season on the Steelers' practice squad, and because of the ankle injury sustained by Frazier on Friday night.
Defensive back (10): Willie Williams (13), Deshea Townsend (8), Troy Polamalu (3), Chris Hope (4), Ike Taylor (3), Ricardo Colclough (2), Bryant McFadden (R), Chidi Iwuoma (5), Mike Logan (9), Russell Stuvaints (4). Cut: Tyrone Carter (6), Vontez Duff (1), Janssen Patten (1).
Stuvaints noses out Carter, a reliable special-teams performer after joining the Steelers last October, because Stuvaints has been in the Steelers' system longer (he opened 2003 on the practice squad before cracking the active roster in December).
Punter (1): Chris Gardocki (15). Cut: Mike Barr (1).
Kicker (1): Jeff Reed (4). Cut: Shaun Suisham (R).
Long-snapper (1): Mike Schneck (7). Cut: Greg Warren (R).
Practice squad: Gibson, Herron, Tuiasosopo, Kranchick, Claxton, Taylor, Nua, Frazier.