Steelers fans can probably forget about the suggestion I made last week regarding the possibility that Brett Keisel will be back in 2014. In spite of the fact that he has not filed his retirement paperwork, I’m told by a source with knowledge of the situation that while Keisel did begin rehab on his triceps injury in March, he has had subsequent surgery(s) and won’t be coming back this year.
Without belaboring the point, the Cam Thomas elephant is still loitering around the room. CFT, as he is sometimes referred, was generally regarded as ineffective in 2014. This prompted many to ponder how it is that Thomas still has a job in the NFL, much less $2 million in compensation scheduled for 2015.
The argument centers around this premise: A team has a finite number of repetitions they can give backups in games and practices. Is it wise to give reps to a subpar player who will never exceed that subpar threshold, at the expense of the development of an inexperienced player who shows promise?
You may have to live with some growing pains while a young player develops his craft. But, how does that differ from living with similar pains now from the below average veteran you have in place? If that veteran player has shown that he will not surpass his current “standard” of performance, why continue to give him those reps? Why not simply live with the mistakes that a young player will make while taking comfort in the idea that the young player should improve?
I believe that Keith Butler will platoon his DL a bit more in 2014 because he wants them to be involved in the pass rush. Fresher bodies should enhance results there. Will Cam Thomas be a part of that group of defensive ends who rotate in to give Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt a rest?
For those of us in the Pro “Replace Cam Thomas” crowd, the good news is that Cam reportedly showed up for OTAs and mini camp out of shape. The questions remain, is there anyone on the roster or available in free agency who can come in and perform at a higher level while pushing Thomas off the roster? Did Thomas show up out of shape because there is little threat of being replaced?
In no particular order, the candidates are:
Hemer was cut at the end of the 2014 preseason, added to the practice squad in October, then released again on November 5th. Hemer was signed back to the practice squad when the Arizona Cardinals signed DE Josh Mauro from the Steelers practice squad on November 14. The fact the Steelers signed defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams to the practice squad after the preseason, before Hemer, isn’t the best sign that the former Wisconsin walk on has the skills to make the roster this year.
The Steelers 6th round draft choice this year is regarded as a project with potential. I suspect that Walton is going to surprise people and be a player much like Vince Williams, a guy who overcomes his physical shortcomings to become a solid contributor. That said, barring injury, I don’t see Walton getting much playing time in 2015, if any at all.
Regarded as a rent-a-player by many, Geathers spent 5 games on the Steelers roster in 2014 after Brett Keisel went on Injured reserve. The Steelers are the 27-year old Geathers’ 8th team in his 6 NFL seasons. The news that not only did John Mitchell request the team re-sign Geathers, but also that Geathers lost 50 pounds at Mitchell’s request was surprising, but it was a pleasant surprise. Not only does it mean that Mitchell sees something in Geathers that he wants to try to develop, but also that Geathers is taking instructions from Mitchell very seriously. This guy is probably the best bet of anyone to unseat Thomas as the 3rd DE.
Kruger is another guy the Steelers added to the practice squad November 24th after losing practice squad player Nick Williams to the Kansas City Chiefs. Kruger was originally drafted in the 7th round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and spent his rookie year on IR. In 2014, he was released by the Eagles after the 3rd preseason game. During 2014, Kruger spent 5 days on the San Diego Chargers practice squad and a month on the Green Bay Packers practice squad prior to signing with the Steelers. The outlook isn’t very good for Kruger either, but there also isn’t all that much to evaluate, so it’s hard to say anything with any certainty about the player.
Conrath went undrafted out of Virginia in 2012. In his 3 NFL seasons he has been on a 53 man roster for 9 games, all with the St. Louis Rams who run a 4-3 front. In 2013 Conrath saw extended time at DT in 1 game due to injuries to players in front of him on the depth chart. In 2014 he was cut by the Rams and landed on their practice squad after going unclaimed on waivers. He ended up back on their roster for 4 days before being cut again, and again not being claimed, in September. It would appear that this isn’t a guy who is seen by most teams as a player who can be a regular contributor. I don’t see him making the Steelers at all, to be honest. That said, a change in scenery and scheme may be just what the doctor ordered.
As to speculation about free agent 3-4 defensive ends who might still be out there? The pickins’ are slim. Red Bryant is still available. While no threat as a pass rusher anymore, he is a far better run defender than Thomas is. Fili Moala is another who meets the same description. However, Bryant is the better of the two and Moala tore his ACL last June.
None of the players I’ve discussed is a shoo-in to replace Thomas, except for possibly Bryant. I realize that isn’t what a lot of you were hoping to read. The reality is we may just have to live with one more year of CFT.