Draft choices found it difficult making the Steelers' final roster, but it might not be a reflection on them as much as it is on the strength and depth of the defending Super Bowl champions.
Coach Bill Cowher waived four rookie draft picks over the past two days, including a fourth-rounder for the second consecutive year, throwing away more than half a million dollars in bonuses the Steelers gave those rookies to sign contracts.
Defensive end Orien Harris, their second pick in the fourth round and the 133rd overall in the April draft, was waived, the same fate that happened last year to receiver Fred Gibson, their fourth-round pick.
Harris cost the Steelers a $278,000 signing bonus. They also threw away $115,000 in a signing bonus on quarterback Omar Jacobs and another $104,000 on tight end Charles Davis -- both fifth-round picks who were waived.
Seventh-round pick Cedric Humes, a halfback, also was bounced from the roster Friday, a move that cost the team only $30,000 in a signing bonus. In total, the Steelers paid the four rookies they cut $527,000 in signing bonuses.
Any or all could join the practice squad today, depending on whether the Steelers want them on their eight-man unit and if they are not claimed off waivers by another NFL club and put on that team's 53-man roster.
In a bit of a surprise, the Steelers released veteran wide receiver Quincy Morgan, which leaves them with six wide receivers.
The rest of the cuts that were made Friday and yesterday:
Quarterback Shane Boyd, punter Mike Barr, offensive lineman Tim Brown, tight end Jon Dekker, fullback Branden Joe, running back John Kuhn, safety Mike Lorello, cornerback Anthony Madison, wide receiver Lee Mays, defensive end Shaun Nua, defensive tackle Scott Paxson, linebacker Richard Seigler, linebacker Ron Stanley, linebacker Andre Frazier, offensive tackle Brandon Torrey, defensive end Lee Vickers and wide receiver Walter Young.
Because Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch are the only quarterbacks on the roster, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson will be used at the position if both are injured during a game.
"We've worked on him in practice with some snaps doing that, that would be the emergency guy," Cowher said. "We've not really ever gotten to that point -- I hate to say that, but I just did. If that were the case, that's where we would go."
Among the bigger disappointments to the Steelers was Nua. A backup defensive end job was his to lose, and he did it. Instead, the job went to veteran Rodney Bailey, who re-signed with the team two years after he left as a restricted free agent.
Nua, a seventh-round choice in 2005, was on the practice squad last fall when San Francisco offered him a contract. The Steelers then offered to put him on the 53-man roster, and he accepted their deal instead.
Wide receiver Hines Ward, who did not play a preseason game because of a hamstring injury, is listed as questionable by Cowher to play in the regular-season opener Thursday against Miami.
Cowher said he expects Ward to practice today, though. As long as there are no setbacks over the next few days, Ward's official status on the injury list could be upgraded.
Tight end Jerame Tuman may have a tougher time. He, too, has a hamstring injury that kept him out of the four preseason games and he, too, was listed as questionable for the game Thursday. But Cowher does not expect Tuman to practice today.
He also listed center Chukky Okobi as questionable, not because of his recent neck surgery, but because of a knee injury he sustained in the final exhibition Thursday.
Four players are listed as probable: rookie offensive tackle Willie Colon (hamstring), cornerback Chidi Iwuoma (concussion), safety Mike Logan (ankle) and starting offensive right tackle Max Starks (knee).
Clark to start at safety
Ryan Clark and not Tyrone Carter will start at free safety, although Cowher said Clark did not win the job, necessarily.
"I don't know if Ryan won it as much as his demeanor makes him the best guy," Cowher said.
Clark was the only true unrestricted free agent signed by the team this year. He started for the Washington Redskins last season, then signed a four-year, $7 million contract with a $1.7 million bonus to play for the Steelers.
Still, the coaching staff made him compete with Carter. They split the starting assignments in the four preseason games, Carter going first. Rookie Anthony Smith also made an impression on them at the position during the preseason.
"I told the guys that the roles they have and what I'm asking them to embrace at this time are very important, that they take a very unselfish approach, but understand that those roles can change," Cowher said.
"The only prerequisite that I will take is to do what is in the best interests of this team to help this team win from week to week. That is the basis of all decisions."
Rookie wide receiver Willie Reid will open as the punt-returner. Cowher said he's not sure which two players will be deep on kickoffs, but strongly suggested Ricardo Colclough could be one. "He may also get a shot back there on punts," Cowher said.