Pittsburgh Steelers: Alan Baxter

PITTSBURGH – Picking 48 out of 53 is excellent by almost any measure. Projecting 53-man NFL rosters, which I did with the Steelers on Friday, is not one of them. The reason: So many of the players who make the roster are a given before a team's final cuts. Here are my misses and what I was thinking:
  • Jonathan Dwyer, RB: I didn't see this one coming even though Felix Jones' play generated speculation that Dwyer could be in trouble. I thought the final spot at running back would come down to Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, since they are similar-type backs. Obviously the Steelers coaches had had enough of the talented but maddening Dwyer.
  • Alameda Ta'amu, NT: The 2012 fourth-round draft pick was beaten out by Hebron Fangupo. I thought the Steelers would keep Ta'amu because they invested a relatively high draft pick in him. He still has practice-squad eligibility, so don't be surprised if Ta'amu is signed there Sunday.
  • Alan Baxter, OLB: This had to be one of the tougher cuts for coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. Baxter was a force rushing the passer in the preseason, but special-teams considerations are why the Steelers kept Chris Carter over the undrafted rookie. Baxter is sure to end up on the practice squad if another team doesn't sign him.
  • Marshall McFadden, ILB: I had the Steelers keeping three backups at inside linebacker, and McFadden was the odd man out as rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams and Kion Wilson made the team. McFadden still has practice-squad eligibility, so his time in Pittsburgh might not be done.
  • Terry Hawthorne, CB: I put the rookie fifth-round pick on the 53-man roster based on the investment the Steelers made in him but they went with Isaiah Green as their fifth cornerback. Offseason knee surgery really limited Hawthorne during training camp, and he obviously didn't show the coaches enough. Hawthorne is another candidate for the practice squad.

Observation deck: Steelers-Panthers

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
12:08
AM ET

 
Some thoughts from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 25-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Thursday's preseason finale:
  • The only way Derek Moye doesn't make the 53-man roster is if the Steelers keep just four wide receivers. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder clearly separated himself from the other receivers vying for a spot behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton. Moye caught two passes for a team-high 55 yards Thursday; he received bonus points for chasing down Josh Norman from behind after the Carolina cornerback intercepted a Landry Jones throw and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Moye's hustle saved a touchdown and the Panthers settled for a field goal.
  • Jones played the entire game and finished with a thud after a great start. The former Oklahoma star looked masterful in directing an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the Steelers' opening possession. Jones looked like the rookie he is after that. He completed just 13 of 32 passes for 149 yards and three interceptions. The last pick came on his final pass of the game and, the Steelers have to hope, the foreseeable future. Wide receiver Justin Brown fell down on the play, but Jones still looked a long way from being NFL-ready. If injuries force Jones -- the No. 3 quarterback -- to play, the Steelers are in trouble anyway.
  • The toughest roster decisions the coaches and front office have to make might come at linebacker. Undrafted rookie Alan Baxter again put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and he will be tough to cut. But do the Steelers like him enough on special teams to keep a fifth outside linebacker? There appear to be at least four solid candidates for two backup spots at inside linebacker, and it probably comes down to special teams when sorting through those players.
  • If veteran Brian Moorman had to beat out Drew Butler, I think the latter hangs on to his job as punter. Neither one stood out during preseason play, and Butler is younger. He is also the incumbent.
  • Felix Jones ran well, gaining a game-high 56 yards on 14 carries and presenting the coaches with a tough decision at running back. Jones is probably the odd man out if the Steelers keep four running backs on their 53-man roster as well as fullback Will Johnson. But the former first-round pick could have convinced Pittsburgh to keep another running back while rookie Le'Veon Bell recovers from a mid-foot sprain.
  • I don't think Curtis Brown is in trouble as far as making the team, but the former third-round pick didn't help himself at Carolina. He was beaten twice for touchdowns by Ted Ginn Jr., who torched the Steelers with 149 receiving yards.
  • Wheaton saw his most extension action of the preseason, and the rookie third-round draft pick produced mixed results. He dropped three passes, including one that Jones put right on his hands. But Wheaton also showed why the Steelers are so high on him. He blew past a Panthers defensive back in the first half and would have caught a long touchdown pass had Jones not put too much air under the ball.
  • I know fans were screaming when Reggie Dunn fielded a punt inside the Steelers' 5-yard line and got tackled for a safety after he went backward while trying to reverse field. But Dunn isn't going to make the team anyway, and the undrafted rookie was just trying to make a play. The Steelers were intrigued by his speed, but one thing worked against Dunn from the start: the frequency of touchbacks in the NFL has de-emphasized kickoff returners.
  • What will the 53-man roster look like? I will take a shot at projecting it Friday in a post that will be up before noon. I expect the Steelers to make some cuts Friday afternoon, and they could do as they did in 2011, when they made the majority of their roster moves a day before the 53-man rosters had to be finalized.

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