On the Steelers: Veteran Hills among final cuts
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Only one real veteran found himself among the final five cuts Saturday by the Steelers, who again found room on their 53-man roster for a group of young players, especially on defense.
Offensive lineman Tony Hills, a fourth-round draft choice in 2008, started two preseason games at right guard but lost that job to Doug Legursky, who will open the season there. Hills previously played tackle but did not play much of it in his previous three seasons.
The others cut were cornerback Crezdon Butler, punter Jeremy Kapinos, tight end John Gilmore and rookie defensive end Jarrett Crittenton.
Their 53-man roster isn't necessarily the one that will open the season Sept. 11 in Baltimore as the Steelers and other teams peruse the many players cut loose the past two days. They also can begin signing players to their practice squad, so many of those released could return to them in that capacity.
If they make no more moves, it means they have added six rookies to their roster, four on defense -- their top five draft picks plus undrafted free-agent tight end Weslye Saunders. This was supposed to be a tough year for rookies to make a roster, especially undrafted rookies, because of the lockout and the lack of preparation time with their new teams. Saunders had additional long odds because he did not play last season for violating NCAA rules. But he steadily improved as training camp wore on and excelled as a pass receiver.
Butler was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010. He returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown in the third preseason game but was burned badly on a 41-yard touchdown pass Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.
Kapinos filled in for Daniel Sepulveda starting in December after a knee injury and gave him some competition for the job this summer. Gilmore, who played at Penn State, was signed as a free agent early in training camp but lost out to Saunders for the third tight end spot. Crittenton is an undrafted rookie.
Isaac Redman started at halfback Thursday night against Carolina, carried four times for 29 yards, caught one pass for 11 yards and bowed out after two series. Jonathan Dwyer replaced him and carried 13 times for 88 yards.
And now a backfield that looked to be somewhat shaky behind Rashard Mendenhall before training camp began has some length and depth to it. Redman is a brute, a big, tough runner who can block, catch, shed tackles and take punishment. He is the clear No. 2 entering this season and could handle the job if Mendenhall were injured.
Dwyer, who reported to camp just over a month ago looking more like a rolly-polly nose tackle, has lost more than 20 pounds and worked himself back into shape. He now looks like the runner who rang up all those numbers at Georgia Tech.
Veteran Mewelde Moore, who re-signed as a free agent just before camp began, has the versatility to do every job including that of punt returner.
"It looks real good, everybody's running pretty good," Redman said of the Steelers 2011 backfield. "Dwyer had a good game, he looked pretty good. We're really picking it up.
"We've been producing. When you put a guy on the field and they produce, it does nothing but instill confidence from the coaches."
Redman lined up for one play at fullback Thursday in the I-formation with Moore. Dwyer did not. Both have been tried there this summer but it does not seem as though either will play that position much. The question of who or if someone will play fullback, or if David Johnson will go back there again, remains unknown. Other than that, the backfield is set with those four running backs.
"If we're doing what we're supposed to do," Dwyer said. "We could probably be the most dominant running backs in the league. I think we have the best depth of running backs in the league. Now we have to go out and prove it week in and week out, not just talk about it but prove it."
The number of plays on offense were closely divided between passes and runs last season (of 993 plays, 471 were runs). In the four preseason games, the trend continued (233 plays, 115 runs). So with emerging young runners and receivers, the split this season will be ...
"Sixty percent," Antonio Brown predicted, the "passing" part understood.
"Definitely, man, we got all the guys who can go do some good things. With the running game going, it should help the passes. As much as the running game gets going, it'll give us more opportunities."
There are only so many opportunities, though, for all those receivers, especially if Emmanuel Sanders is as healthy as he showed Thursday night. How do you get Sanders and Brown their catches, not to mention Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, who needs 46 to hit 1,000? Then, too, give Mendenhall his carries and maybe Redman, too?
"There's definitely enough food out there on the table," Sanders said. "We have a deep wide receiver corps and Bruce Arians is going to make a great game plan to get the ball in everyone's hands. There's definitely going to be some advantages, matchup-wise, vs. teams when we go to four, five wide receiver sets. So it's to our advantage."
Said Redman, "One hand washes the other. We run the ball well it opens it up for them, we pass the ball well it opens it up for us. We'll see. [Arians] does a good job of mixing up the run and pass."
Brown attached a name to the leap he took into the Heinz Field stands after scoring Aug. 27 against the Atlanta Falcons.
"That's the Spider-Man Leap," Brown said, and explained, "because it kind of made me feel like Spider-Man."
First Published September 4, 2011 12:00 am