PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers play their final preseason game Thursday night at Carolina. The team then has less than 48 hours to make final cuts as 53-man rosters have to be finalized before 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Here are five players who need to make a strong closing argument in the preseason finale:
Brian Arnfelt, DE: An undrafted rookie free agent out of Northwestern, Arnfelt has shown enough to at least make the practice squad. The 6-foot-4, 298-pounder has six tackles in three games and he is pushing for a roster spot. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to dress an extra defensive lineman during the first part of the season because of the heat and humidity. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Steelers will carry an extra defensive lineman on their 53-man roster. If the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen I really like Arnfelt’s chances. If they keep six, he probably has to make the team over nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2012.
Alan Baxter, OLB: The undrafted rookie out of Northern Illinois lost his under-the-radar status early in training camp when Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert mentioned Baxter when asked if there was a player who had stood out to him. Baxter notched two sacks in the Steelers’ third preseason game. If he has another game like that Thursday night, it will make the 6-foot, 238-pounder that much more difficult to cut. What Baxter has to do if he wants to play his way onto the Steelers is convince the coaches that he can provide immediate help on special teams. He gets one more chance to show them that at Carolina.
John Malecki, G: What a story it will be if Malecki sticks with the Steelers. He is as homegrown as they get having played in high school at Franklin-Regional, which is in a suburb of Pittsburgh, and in college at Pitt. The 6-2, 298-pounder has been on and off more teams’ practice squads than he can probably remember. And it is now all or nothing for Malecki, who spent six weeks on the Steelers’ active roster in 2012 and played in one game. He has played center extensively in the Steelers’ preseason games, and if Malecki makes the team he will fill the role that Doug Legursky did so capably in past years as a reserve interior lineman. Like Legursky, Malecki has had to overcome questions about his size. But he appears to in good shape if the Steelers carry at least eight offensive linemen.
Derek Moye, WR: Another local product, the 6-5, 210-pound Moye appears to have separated himself from the group of wideouts vying for a spot behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton. The biggest question when it comes to Moye, who leads the team with eight catches and would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a tall wideout, is whether the Steelers will carry more than four wideouts. Injuries at running back and tight end mean the Steelers might have to initially keep one extra player at each position. Moye, a graduate of Rochester High School in suburban Pittsburgh, makes the team if the former Penn State star convinces the coaches he can also help on special teams.
Kion Wilson, LB: The release of Stevenson Sylvester leaves Marshall McFadden and rookie Vince Williams as the likely reserves behind starting inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote. The Steelers also figure to keep an extra linebacker based mostly on special-teams play. Wilson, who has a sack and two quarterback pressures in three games, was out of the league last season. But he had stints with the Chargers in 2010 and the Panthers in 2011. And the 6-foot, 230-pounder knows from those stops how important special teams are to his staying in the league.