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Rookie plays big role in Steelers’ roster assembled to play in AFC North

After six months of roster building, offseason workouts, training camp practices and preseason tune-ups, the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to compete in the AFC North and return to the playoffs for the third year in a row. confirm.

The first Test is next Sunday in Cincinnati, and the matchup against the AFC’s Super Bowl representative marks a complete departure from the Ben Roethlisberger era.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Steelers will have a new quarterback. Roethlisberger’s retirement is the headline of an offseason organizational change that also welcomes a new general manager, defensive coordinator and stadium name. He has a new piece in the line and will beat up promising rookies like Kenny Pickett and George Pickens.

Here is the roster the Steelers have assembled:

quarterback

Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph

Forget Mike Tomlin’s gamesmanship. No formal announcement is required. Trubisky has scored the top rep on his team since the first day of his offseason workouts in May. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will play against the Bengals.

The Steelers signed Trubisky because of his mobility and ability to generate plays outside the pocket. He gives the offense more flexibility than when Roethlisberger was on the field last season.

The question is whether Pickett or Rudolph will get a different helmet on game day. Pickett has been ramping up his second-team reps since mid-training camp, but if Trubisky gets injured, Tomlin might feel more comfortable with Rudolph than the rookie on the sidelines.

run back

Nagy Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Warren, Derek Watt (fullback)

Harris’ participation in the preseason finale showed that the Lisfranc sprain that kept him off the field for three to four weeks was no longer an issue. At least that’s his Tomlin claim.

Harris recorded 1,200 total rushing yards and 1,647 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. Whether he can build on those numbers will likely depend on the state of his offensive line, which remains the biggest question mark on offense.

Snell may surprise no one with his speed, but he can be useful in short-distance situations and is a core player in special teams. He’s a wildcard to Warren and the only undrafted free agent to make a 53-man roster. Watt made the final roster even though he was out of the preseason games due to injury.

wide receiver

Dionte Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Gunner Olshewski, Miles Boykin, Stephen Sims

Armed with a new contract, Johnson is looking to improve his season with 107 catches for 1,161 yards. His shoulder injury in the final preseason game is notable. Claypool is looking to rebound from a stagnant second his season where touchdowns have fallen from his 11 to his two.

A second-round pick, Pickens was a camp darling thanks to his body control on so-called combat catches. He thinks he will join Johnson and Claypool as the most frequently used receivers.

Boykin is off to a fresh start after a disappointing run in Baltimore. Olszewski has shown at camp that he is more than a return specialist. Sims can also be used as threats to return his games and slots.

tight end

Pat Freielmuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Hayward

Frei Elmut is the clear starter after playing 62% of the snap as a rookie, catching 60 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. After averaging 8.3 yards per catch in 2021, he emerged as a more downfield threat in the preseason.

At 6-foot-8, Gentry finally hit the field with regularity in his third season. Besides being a tall target, his improved block could lead to the Steelers using his two tight ends even more in his set. Hayward offers versatility as a tight end/H-back/fullback. He’s been used in a variety of roles in the late preseason, but that could last if he gets a helmet on game day.

offensive line

Mason Cole, Kevin Dotson, James Daniels, Dan Moore Jr., Chucks Okorafor, JC Hassenauer, Kendrick Green, Jesse Davis, Trent Scott

The inside saw the biggest change in the offseason, with Cole and Daniels signing free agency deals to play center and right guard, respectively. Left tackle, however, may be the biggest concern heading into the regular season.

Moore allowed a sack in each of the three preseason games, and the Steelers added Davis on cutdown day to provide depth in every spot except center. Dotson starts at left guard, but did he win the competition or did Green lose? Don’t be surprised if Scott will offer a veteran option in tackles, with Hassenauer being his backup center.

line of defense

Cameron Hayward, Tyson Araru, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Warmley, Isaiah Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal, Montravius ​​Adams

The health of Hayward, Al-Al and Ogunjobi will go a long way in determining if the Steelers can fix their runstop problems last year. After Stephon Tuitt retired, the Steelers acted quickly, signing Ogunjobi, who was good at stopping passersby in a hurry.

Wormley becomes the top backup and Adams is used to spell Alualu. The Steelers expect Loudermilk to improve in his rookie season and contribute to the rotation.

outside linebacker

TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Malik Reed, Jameel Jones

Defensive NFL Defensive Player of the Year Watt is the only proven product in the unit that has seen some changes in the past week. Highsmith is looking to rack up his six sacks from 2021 and will start on the right side for the second year in a row. However, his rib injury kept him off the field for the entire preseason and endures scrutiny heading into the season opener.

GM Omar Kahn, unhappy with the depth of the position, traded for fourth-year veteran Reed and recalled Jones on a waiver claim. Reid has a total of 13 his sacks in his 2020-21 season and could ask for more playing time if Highsmith is off to a slow start.

inside linebacker

Miles Jack, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Mark Robinson

Jack represents better than Joe Shobert, another former Jacksonville player the Steelers used in the position last season. Bush starts the season as the most scrutinized defensive his player. He continued to struggle dropping blocks in preseason and was able to share time with Spillane to open the season.

Former running back and seventh-round pick Robinson was impressive enough in camp and preseason that the Steelers were able to give him a further role as the season progressed. was re-signed after the final cut.

corner back

Cam Sutton, Arkelo Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Arthur Moret, James Pierre

Sutton’s versatility allows the Steelers to move him inside on pass downs and use Witherspoon and Wallace on the outside. The Steelers signed both outside corners to his two-year contract after moving from Joe Hayden.

Mawlets are optional for slot corner positions. He was probably set for a bigger role after playing 35% of his defensive snaps last season until a hamstring injury slowed him down during the preseason. I beat Justin Rain in the corner spot.

safety

Minka Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmonds, Tre Norwood, Miles Killebrew

After leading the Steelers in tackles a year ago, Fitzpatrick was looking for more freedom in the secondary. These plans may have changed when Damonte Cazzi was injured in his preseason finale.

Cuzzy carved out a role as the subpackage’s third safe until an arm injury landed the former Dallas Cowboys safety on injured reserve. The Steelers may not be happy with Norwood or Killebrew regularly filling that void. Norwood was used as a dimelinebacker in the preseason. Killebrew’s greatest value lies in its special team.

specialist

Chris Boswell, Presley Harvin III, Christian Kunz

Boswell extended his contract in training camp and became one of the highest paid kickers in the NFL. Harvin and Kuntz are back for the second season. The Steelers continued to persevere with Harvin’s inconsistent punts last season and felt comfortable enough to release competition for his camp in the first round of the cut.

The Steelers have also shown they are happy with Kuntz as a long snapper by bringing in no one to compete with Charties Valley and Duquesne’s offerings.

Joe Rutter is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can reach Joe by email at [email protected] or on his Twitter. .

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