PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel is heading into his 13th NFL season, but the veteran defensive end can still recall sweating out the final cuts when he was a rookie seventh-round pick -- No. 242 overall in 2002 -- hoping he had shown the Steelers' coaches enough to make the 53-man roster.

Keisel, as much as anyone in the Steelers’ locker room, can appreciate what those who survive the cuts -- which are taking place across the league -- have endured. That doesn’t mean the fringe players who make the Steelers will receive much more than a succinct congratulations from “Da Beard.”

Keisel
Keisel
“When we come into work, it’s all about moving forward; it’s all about winning,” Keisel said. "We all need we know to start fast.”

And how.

The Steelers all but buried themselves last season with their first 0-4 start since 1968, and team leaders such as Keisel won’t tolerate anything that closely resembles a repeat.

Keisel is still working his way back into football shape after re-signing with the Steelers on Aug. 20, and his role with the team remains unclear.

The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive end played his first snaps Thursday night since last December. And the grin he wore in the home locker room afterward neatly summed up his emotions after getting back out on the field.

“I’m glad coach [Mike Tomlin] gave me the opportunity to go out there and play a little bit and get my feet wet,” Keisel said after the Steelers’ 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers. “He said he was going to going to take me to the deep end.”

Tomlin didn’t quite go to that extreme.

But Keisel played more than a quarter, and he almost forced a turnover after getting his hand on Derek Anderson’s arm following a free run at the Panthers’ quarterback. When asked to evaluate his performance after the Steelers' final preseason game, Keisel said, “Probably a B-minus, so it’s good to be above average, I guess. I’ve got work to do.”

That he is still working for the Steelers couldn’t mean more to Keisel, who was introduced with the rest of the defensive starters before the start of the game against the Panthers.

“There were a lot of questions whether I’d have the opportunity to do that again, to run out of that tunnel again,” said Keisel, who turns 36 next month. “I love playing this game. I love this team. I love everything that comes with being a Steeler.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made a couple of roster moves late Friday afternoon, claiming former Dallas Cowboys cornerback B.W. Webb off waivers and placing rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt on injured reserve.

Webb
The Cowboys cut Webb, who played in 15 games for Dallas last season as a rookie, on Thursday. Webb recorded 13 tackles and broke up a pass last season. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Webb attended William & Mary, the alma mater of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers’ claiming of Webb, a former fourth-round draft pick, could be an indication that cornerback Brice McCain sustained a significant groin injury Thursday night in the Steelers' preseason finale.

The loss of McCain for an extended period would weaken a position where Steelers are not particularly deep. Rookie Shaquille Richardson is nursing a knee injury and the fifth-round pick is a candidate for the short-term injured reserve list, though the Steelers would first have to put him on the 53-man roster.

The Steelers have yet to announce any cuts, and they have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to finalize their 53-man roster.

The Steelers will essentially redshirt Zumwalt after he missed most of their offseason practices because UCLA had not completed its school year. The sixth-round pick has been hampered by a groin injury, and Zumwalt has not played since the Steelers’ first preseason game on Aug. 9.

Fantasy: Markus Wheaton

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
5:14
PM ET


video

Christopher Harris analyzes Markus Wheaton's draft value.
PITTSBURGH -- Finalizing the 53-man roster before 4 p.m. ET Saturday is the Pittsburgh Steelers' top priority.

It might also be their last major order of business before the start of the regular season.

Worilds
Team president Art Rooney II told ESPN.com that there is a good chance that the Steelers won’t sign any more of their players to long-term deals before next year.

The Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham to new long-term contracts since June.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen remain the only starters who are candidates to receive new deals. The Steelers don't negotiate player contracts during the regular season, so it would be an understatement to say that the clock is ticking.

"There’s probably a chance we’ll do one more contract," Rooney said. "I don’t know if we will get it done or not, but we’re pretty much done with the signing process as we’re heading into the season."

Worilds is probably the odd man out even if the Steelers sign one more player to a new long-term contract before Sept. 7.

The fifth-year veteran will make $9.754 million in 2014 after signing the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on him in March, and the Steelers might not be willing to offer the kind of multi-year deal to make it worth it for Worilds to pass up making nearly $10 million this season.

The Steelers will still have some measure of control when it comes to Worilds’ rights even if they don’t sign him to a new contract before the start of the regular season.

They can tag Worilds again next year, which would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NFL year starts.

The Steelers appear to be content to see if Worilds can build on his strong second half from last season and then decide whether they are ready to commit to the former second-round draft pick long term.

Allen is the more likely of the two to sign a new contract becausee it might be more feasible -- and palatable -- for the Steelers from a financial standpoint.

Allen, whose cap hit is $1.529 million this season, is a promising young cornerback who has yet to put it together for an entire season. His signing a long-term contract would provide security for both Allen and the Steelers, who are thin at cornerback.

Given where the respective sides are coming from, it seems a lot more likely that Allen, not Worilds, and the Steelers find common ground on a new deal before the organization shuts down contract negotiations until next year.
video

Heritage Auctions' Chris Ivy breaks down the value of Terry Bradshaw's game-used helmet from the 1975 season.

Landry Jones plays the waiting game

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
12:30
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The offense was backed up on its own 1-yard line when Landry Jones made the kind of throw that showed why the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted the former Oklahoma star in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Jones confidently hung in the pocket on third down and fit a pass into a fairly tight window, hitting Will Johnson on a seam route that initially netted 19 yards. The Carolina Panthers successfully challenged the spot after Johnson was brought down near the 20-yard line, and what resulted in an 18-yard gain left the Steelers a yard short of a first down.

That didn’t take away from what was easily Jones’ best play in the Steelers' final preseason game.

And the question with final cuts looming is whether the second-year man made enough throws like the aforementioned one to earn a spot on the Steelers’ 53-man roster.

“I have no idea,” Jones said late Thursday night. “That’s so far out of my control I don’t even like to think about it because it stresses me out.”

Jones put himself in a precarious situation by only throwing for 224 yards in three preseason games and not once leading a drive that resulted in a touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder still holds onto the ball too long as evidenced by the six times he was sacked in the preseason -- or double the combined number that Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski were dropped.

“There’s still some growing pains right now but that’s a part of it,” Jones said after completing 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards in a 10-0 loss to the Panthers, “being in a new offense, being in a new system, playing in the NFL. But I feel like I’ve come a long way from last year.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Jones “did some good things” against the Panthers. But when asked if he is confident that the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback is on the roster right now, Tomlin said, “I’m not confident of anything right now in that regard.”

I have Jones making the team in my final projection of the Steelers' 53-man roster. They like to carry three quarterbacks and it is too early for them to give up on Jones after investing a relatively high draft pick on him.

He made just enough of a closing argument to stick around for another season as the No. 3 quarterback.
Examining the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)


I felt going into the finale preseason game that Jones had to play his way off the roster. The second-year man didn't do that and the Steelers will give the 2013 fourth-round pick another season as the No. 3 quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
Josh Harris and Stephen Houston each had a nice run Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. But neither got the kind of work that leads you to believe the Steelers are seriously considering one of them as a No. 4 running back. The question is which one will they keep for the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Bryant's shoulder injury, which is signficant, clinches the Steelers keeping six wide receivers. Heyward-Bey really emerged in the second half of the preseason and I see the sixth-year veteran not only making the team but also getting a helmet on game days. Justin Brown is the odd man out here if the Steelers only keep five wide receivers.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Palmer isn't flashy but he blocks and is a solid contributor on special teams. Neither David Paulson nor rookie Rob Blanchflower did enough in the preseason finale to move past him. Blanchflower, a seventh-round pick, heads to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak will push for nine here. If he gets his wish Guy Whimper makes it for another season. If not Johnson, a rookie fifth-round pick, beats out the nine-year veteran because of his upside and versatility.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

McCullers, thought to be a project, has been a pleasant surprise. The rookie sixth-round pick is a lock to make the team. Defensive end Josh Mauro, an undrafted rookie, makes the 53-man roster if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen. If not the Steelers will try to sneak the Stanford product onto the practice squad.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Jones is the surprise here, and the undrafted rookie makes it over fourth-year veteran Chris Carter because of his ability to play special teams and his upside. I really want to put Jordan Zumwalt on the 53-man roster and the rookie sixth-round pick is a candidate for short-term injured reserve, which the Steelers can use on one player. The guess is that the Steelers take the small risk of waiving Zumwalt, who hasn't played since the preseason opener because of a groin injury, and then signing the UCLA product to the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (6)

Richardson only played 17 snaps in two games before hurting his knee, and the rookie fifth-round pick is in a similar situation as Zumwalt. The Steelers keep him because they desperately need to develop some young cornerbacks.

SAFETIES (5)

The Steelers have a tough cut to make if they only keep four safeties. Golden has more upside but Allen is a dependable veteran. Both are good special teams players. I think both make the 53-man roster.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Coach Mike Tomlin seems to be high on Wing, who has been the Steelers' only punter since the start of training camp. Consistency was an issue for him in the preseason and the Steelers could keep a close eye on the waiver wire even if Wing makes the 53-man roster. We also may have not heard the last from veteran Adam Podlesh, who has yet to report to the Steelers because of a family matter.
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Martavis Bryant might be looking at the equivalent of a redshirt in his first NFL season.

Bryant left the Steelers’ final preseason game early Thursday night with an A/C sprain in his shoulder, and the injury is expected to sideline the fourth-round pick for an extended period.

Depending on the severity of the injury, which is a separated shoulder, the Steelers could place Bryant on the short-term injured reserve list after he makes the 53-man roster.

If the Steelers use that designation on Bryant he would be allowed to resume practicing with the team after the sixth week of the regular season. The 6-4, 211-pounder wouldn’t be eligible to play until after the eighth week of the season.

If Bryant goes on short-term IR he likely won’t contribute much this season. His injury makes it likely that the Steelers will keep six wide receivers when putting together their 53-man roster, a process that must be completed by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers’ 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers that two other rookies, cornerback Shaquille Richardson and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, are possibilities for short-term IR, which teams are allowed to use once per season.

Richardson, a fifth-round pick, has been out with a knee injury while Zumwalt has been sidelined by a groin injury. Neither, Tomlin said, were close to playing in the Steelers’ final preseason game.

The Steelers received some good news on the injury front earlier this week.

Long snapper Greg Warren told 970 ESPN that he will be a “full go” when the Steelers return to practice on Monday and that he will be able to play in the Sept. 7 season opener against the visiting Browns.

Warren, who has been recovering from surgery that fixed a meniscus tear in his knee, said he practiced on Wednesday.

Tomlin said he is pleased with how the Steelers made it through training camp and the preseason from an injury standpoint.

The Steelers did not suffer any major injuries to core players. Bryant and reserve cornerback Brice McCain (groin) were the only players who sustained injuries of note in the loss to the Panthers.

“It’s not something that we have control over so I don’t spend a lot of time fretting over that,” Tomlin said of injuries. “But it is a blessing when they’re minimal and not a lot of significant ones so we’ll take that.”
video

PITTSBURGH -- It certainly looked like a fourth preseason game, from the swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field to the uneven play with many starters from each side playing sparingly, if at all.

Carolina parlayed a big pass play into the game’s only touchdown ,and the Panthers beat the Steelers 10-0 Thursday night with the specter of final cuts looming for fringe players on each side.

Landry Jones started at quarterback and completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards before giving way to Brendon Kay midway through the third quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, didn’t lead any scoring drives but probably did enough to make the 53-man roster as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback.

No Steelers player battling for a roster spot made a particularly compelling argument to stay with the team beyond 4 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters.

Brad Wing looked like he was on his way to nailing down a roster spot after pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory several times. Then the Aussie unleashed a 25-yard clunker, something that will make the coaches ponder whether Wing is consistent enough to be trusted.

Players such as Wing have made their final argument as far as making the team.

The Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel will meet on Friday to start paring down the roster and could make some cuts then, with the rest coming on Saturday. The Steelers have to cut 22 players to get to the 53-man limit by late Saturday afternoon.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ fourth preseason game:
  • It was a very nice bounce-back game for starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the second-year man struggled a week ago in Philadelphia. Jones made his presence felt early against the pass and the run, and the Steelers coaches had to love his hustle after a snap sailed over the head of Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in the second quarter. Anderson tried to pick the ball up, and when he couldn’t get a handle on it Jones made a diving recovery. He then got up and started to rumble downfield, drawing a personal foul penalty when former Steelers center Fernando Velasco dragged Jones down by his hair. Jones recorded three tackles, including one for a loss, and the fumble recovery before calling it a night.
  • If the Steelers only keep five wide receivers Justin Brown might be headed back to the practice squad. The wide receiver who created such a buzz during offseason practices caught five passes for 32 yards in four preseason games despite playing more snaps than any other Steelers skill player. Hard-charging Darrius Heyward-Bey caught six passes for 44 yards against the Panthers and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster even if the Steelers only keep five wideouts. His speed and experience -- and his production in the Steelers' final two preseason games -- will make Heyward-Bey too difficult to cut
  • David Paulson and Rob Blanchflower needed to beat Michael Palmer for the No. 3 spot at tight end, and neither was able to do it. Palmer had a couple of nice blocks early when the Steelers were able to run the ball, and the fifth-year veteran is solid on special teams. He solidified his spot on the 53-man roster, and Blanchflower looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • Cornerback Antwon Blake had played well before getting beat badly on a 53-yard catch by wide receiver Philly Brown, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown. Blake will make the Steelers as a core special-teams player but Brice McCain has clearly established himself as the No. 4 cornerback assuming the groin injury he suffered against the Panthers isn’t serious.
  • The Steelers showed an interesting defensive look late in the second quarter. Josh Mauro, Roy Philon, Daniel McCullers and Ethan Hemer were up front with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin as the only linebackers in the game. However, Shamarko Thomas played close enough to the line of scrimmage that it looked like the Steelers had their big nickel package on the field with four down linemen.
video

Grantland's Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal look at the AFC North, a division with three legitimate contenders and one team that's "built for next year". Bill and Sal agree the Bengals will likely win the division, which usually means they won't.
PITTSBURGH -- Here is a review of the first three preseason games for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in terms of snap counts.

Defensive line: Cameron Heyward 109, Stephon Tuitt 86, Cam Thomas 76, Daniel McCullers 69, Josh Mauro 65, Steve McLendon 36, Ethan Hemer 34, Nick Williams 23, Roy Philon 8.

Notable: McLendon’s snap count is down a little since the Steelers' starting nose tackle missed the first preseason game because of a concussion. But rookie sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers played more snaps than McLendon in each of the past two preseason games. Mauro has the edge as far as making the 53-man roster if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen though he has hardly played on special teams. The undrafted rookie has logged just two snaps on special teams and he figures to get a good look on those units tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

Linebacker: Lawrence Timmons 115, Jason Worilds 104, Ryan Shazier 103, Arthur Moats 90, Jarvis Jones 79, Chris Carter 77, Howard Jones 70, Vince Williams 69, Terence Garvin 68, Dan Molls 55, Sean Spence 43, Jordan Zumwalt 25.

Notable: Zumwalt played well in the first preseason game but he has been sidelined since then with a groin injury. It’s hard to imagine the rookie sixth-round pick playing against the Panthers given how gingerly he is still walking. If Zumwalt is unable to play tonight he is likely headed to the practice squad. Howard Jones needs to flash on special teams as that is the undrafted rookie’s ticket to the 53-man roster. It may come down to Jones and fourth-year veteran Chris Carter for the final roster spot at linebacker if Zumwalt is out of the picture.

Cornerback: Ike Taylor 114, Cortez Allen 113, William Gay 91, Brice McCain 84, Antwon Blake 79, Isaiah Green 76, Shaquille Richardson 19.

Notable: Richardson is in the same situation as Zumwalt. The rookie fifth-round pick is questionable for tonight’s game because of a knee injury, and he is likely headed to the practice squad if he doesn’t play against the Panthers. Green, who made the 53-man roster last year, has to play well enough against the Panthers to convince the coaches to keep six cornerbacks.

Safety: Mike Mitchell 115, Troy Polamalu 103, Robert Golden, 79, Shamarko Thomas 79, Ross Ventrone 45, Will Allen 12.

Notable: The Steelers seem pretty set here unless they only keep four safeties. If that is the case Allen, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury, could lose out to Golden. Both will play extensively tonight unless Allen has suffered a setback with his hamstring.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers play their final preseason game Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Carolina Panthers. Here is a review the first three games in terms of snap counts. We'll look at offense here, with an examination of the defense in a later post.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger 68, Bruce Gradkowski 68, Landry Jones 48

Notable: Roethlisberger won’t play Thursday night, and Gradkowski is likely to sit as well. Jones is expected start and play most of the way as he tries to show the Steelers he is worthy of a roster spot. Undrafted rookie Brendon Kay may get some playing time so he can put out some game film after not seeing the field in the first three exhibition games.

Running back: Le'Veon Bell 43, LeGarrette Blount 42, Dri Archer 25, Will Johnson 16, Josh Harris 12, Stephen Houston 7.

Notable: Coach Mike Tomlin has said both Bell and Blount will play against the Panthers, but Harris and Houston figure to get the bulk of the carries. One of them has to convince the Steelers to carry a fourth running back behind Bell, Blount and Archer.

Wide receiver: Justin Brown 98, Markus Wheaton 87, Martavis Bryant 80, Antonio Brown 76, Derek Moye 58, Darrius Heyward-Bey 35, Lance Moore 20, Lanear Sampson 8.

Notable: I think Justin Brown is safe as far as making the team. It wouldn’t hurt for him to have a productive game, as the second-year man has caught just three passes for 15 yards despite playing the most snaps of any Steelers skills player. Tomlin praised Heyward-Bey’s play on special teams even though the sixth-year veteran has logged just seven snaps in two preseason games on those units. He should see a lot of action on special teams against the Panthers.

Tight end: Heath Miller 76, David Paulson 53, Matt Spaeth 43, Rob Blanchflower 35, Michael Palmer 18.

Notable: Miller and Spaeth are the only locks to make the team. I give Palmer the edge for the No. 3 spot because of his contributions on special teams. Paulson and Blanchflower, however, are still in the running. Blanchflower may be coming on after a slow start to training camp. The rookie seventh-round pick logged 18 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday in a game in which the starters played extensively.

Offensive line: Mike Adams 104, Chris Hubbard 100, Guy Whimper 96, Kelvin Beachum 80, David DeCastro 80, Marcus Gilbert 80, Maurkice Pouncey 80, Ramon Foster 66, Cody Wallace 64, Will Simmons 50, Wesley Johnson 40.

Notable: I have Johnson, a fifth-round pick, making the team, but the rookie may have to show the coaches something against the Panthers. It will be interesting to see if he plays multiple positions Thursday night. The first-team offensive line got plenty of work together as reflected by the starters’ respective snap counts.

W2W4: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
PM ET
The Carolina Panthers (1-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) play Thursday night at Heinz Field.
  • Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told his players the story of wide receiver Derek Moye earlier this week. Moye, an undrafted free agent in 2012, had been on the outside looking in going into the final preseason game last season. Moye caught two passes for 55 yards and just as impressive was his running down Panthers cornerback Josh Norman from behind after an interception. Moye played his way onto the 53-man roster, and Tomlin’s message to those who are in the same situation this year -- and that includes Moye -- was simple: Make it hard if not impossible for us to cut you.
  • Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, who has been back with the Steelers for little more than a week, is expected to receive extensive playing time in a game that is generally reserved for younger players. Keisel could use work in preparation for the regular-season opener, and it will be interesting to see where the 13-year veteran gets his snaps. Keisel started at right defensive end from 2006-13 and Cameron Heyward, who will sit out as a precaution after spraining his ankle last Thursday, is listed at left defensive end on the depth chart. But Heyward started at right defensive end in the Steelers’ third preseason game, the day after they re-signed Keisel, and he has been entrenched there since the outset of offseason practices. We may find out more on how the Steelers plan on using Keisel this season based on where he lines up against the Panthers.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won’t play against the Panthers. Backup Bruce Gradkowski will play sparingly if at all. That means it will be Landry Jones’ show, and if the second-year man bombs against the Panthers there may not be a place for him on the 53-man roster. The Steelers desperately want Jones, on whom they inexplicably used a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, to earn a spot on the team and not find his way onto it because they want to carry three quarterbacks. The former Oklahoma star did not play well in the Steelers’ second preseason game and he didn’t play at all last Thursday in a 31-21 loss at Philadelphia. It’s interesting that No. 4 quarterback Brendon Kay survived the first round of cuts Tuesday. Is the undrafted rookie competing with Jones or are the Steelers planning to play him Thursday so he can put out game tape after not seeing the field in the first three preseason games?
The Steelers worked out defensive end Alejandro Villanueva on Wednesday, per ESPN.com’s Field Yates.

The Steelers routinely work out players at team headquarters throughout the year but Villanueva is not just anyone who is pursuing a dream of playing in the NFL.

Villanueva is a former U.S. Army Ranger, and he completed three tours in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal for bravery. His service -- and here is more on that in a terrific piece written in May by ESPN.com NFL columnist Ashley Fox -- is not all that stands out about Villanueva.

He is 6-9, 277 pounds and Villanueva had been with the Philadelphia Eagles before getting released earlier this week.

Villanueva, 25, played at Army and then fulfilled his military commitment after graduating from West Point. He signed with the Eagles in May after catching the organization’s attendance at a regional combine, and Villanueva had been trying to make the team as a defensive end.

Villanueva has not played football since 2009 but his size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect. He played multiple positions at Army and his senior year Villanueva moved to wide receiver and led the team with 34 receptions for 522 yards and five touchdowns.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider