View Full Version : Trimming roster not easy for Steelers coach Tomlin

09-05-2009, 11:17 PM
Trimming roster not easy for Steelers coach Tomlin
By Scott Brown
Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Steelers' 53-man roster, which the team finalized Saturday, reflects something that became apparent early during training camp: The organization did its homework prior to the 2009 NFL Draft.

Seven of the nine picks the Steelers made in April survived a final cut that may have been the toughest in Mike Tomlin's three years as coach. Another rookie, guard Ramon Foster, made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent.

Tomlin talked about the "ceiling" that the Steelers gauge in all rookies when deciding if they are worthy of a roster spot.

"What potential a rookie is capable of being not today but maybe a month from now or two months from now, and that weighs in his favor," Tomlin said last Friday. "There's not necessarily a formula that dictates what's going to be the deciding factor" between a rookie and a veteran.

It is clear based on the number of youngsters who made the team that the Steelers are enamored with the promise of the players in their rookie class.

The good news for the Steelers is they have such a veteran-laden team that Tomlin can bring the rookies along slowly.

Frank Summers, whom the Steelers took with the compensatory draft pick they got for losing Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca to free agency in 2008, could make the biggest impact this season.

The Steelers cut four-year veteran Carey Davis, leaving Summers as the only fullback on the roster. Other rookies to watch include wide receiver Mike Wallace, a third-round pick who could give the Steelers an added deep threat in the passing game, as well as defensive end Ziggy Hood.

Hood, a first-round pick, made such strides learning a difficult position that he could push for playing time even though the Steelers already are deep at defensive end.

Isaac Redman, the rookie who created as much buzz as any first-year player during the preseason, didn't make the team, though the Steelers could sign the running back to their practice squad today.

It's worth pondering if Redman would have made the team had he been a high draft pick like 2008 first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall.

Redman led the Steelers in rushing (145 yards) and touchdowns (three) in four preseason games. Mendenhall, meanwhile, averaged just 3.1 yards a carry during the preseason and didn't convince the coaches that he is ready to become a legitimate complement to Willie Parker in the running game.

While Redman had been trying to make the Steelers from Division II Bowie (Md.) State, the clock never struck midnight for another Cinderella story.

Return man Stefan Logan burst onto the scene in the Steelers' second preseason game. And, as Tomlin said last Thursday night after Logan returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers, the 5-foot-6 Logan made the decision for him as far as securing a spot on the roster.

Logan, who starred in the Canadian Football League last season and signed with the Steelers in February, averaged 37.0 yards on kickoff returns and 21.2 yards on punt returns during the preseason.

"He's very special," Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said of Logan, "but a lot of guys are special in the preseason so, God willing, he'll be able to make those plays during the regular season."

Logan figures to play primarily on special teams.

And the Steelers are hoping to get a better return than the last time they had a player on their roster who served almost exclusively in a role as specialized as the one Logan will fill.

The Steelers traded for Allen Rossum two years ago, but he lasted just one season with the team after not turning in enough big plays as a kickoff and punt returner.

Logan's inclusion on the team offers additional proof of the premium Tomlin places on strong special-teams play.

The same goes for outside linebacker Patrick Bailey.

Bailey made the team in large part because he may be the Steelers' top player on the kickoff coverage team. Outside linebacker Bruce Davis' inability to make an impact on special teams played a significant factor in the Steelers cutting ties with their 2008 third-round draft pick after just one season.

Tomlin puts such an emphasis on special teams, which he often calls a "legitimate phase of the game," that the release of cornerback Anthony Madison proved to be one of the more surprising cuts by the Steelers.

Madison excelled as a gunner on the punt coverage team, and last season he led the Steelers with 25 tackles on special teams.

But the Steelers have a history of filling out their special teams units with reserves who use special teams as a springboard to the starting lineup.

Outside linebacker James Harrison, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and defensive end Brett Keisel are among the current starters who did just that. It's clear that Steelers expect the cycle to continue with their promising crop of first-year players.

"We're just trying to find 53 that we feel are capable of pursuing and bringing home a world championship for us," Tomlin said.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.