Sunday, September 4, 2011
Steelers pick captains for 2011
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' final 53-man roster includes all the usual names, including captains Ben Roethlisberger, James Farrior, Hines Ward and Arnaz Battle.
One name, however, raised some serious eyebrows on one of the NFL's most stable teams.
Undrafted free agent tight end Weslye Saunders survived cut day Saturday and will likely be in uniform next weekend when the defending AFC champions open the season at Baltimore.
"I didn't sleep at all the night before (Friday into Saturday) or eat anything Saturday," Saunders said. "You just sit around, hoping that your phone doesn't ring, but it was all good after 6 o'clock. It was a wrap."
Saunders beat out veteran John Gilmore for the third tight end spot behind Heath Miller and David Johnson. Not bad for a player who hasn't played a regular season down since his junior year at South Carolina in 2009. He was kicked off the team last fall after being questioned by NCAA officials about potential agent contact regarding a party in South Beach, Fla.
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Saunders hoped to be drafted but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo foot surgery. He went undrafted, though the Steelers were impressed enough by his athleticism to take a chance.
Saunders responded with a fine training camp, drawing raves for his blocking and catching four passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
"He's got a tremendous upside," said coach Mike Tomlin. "He didn't play football a year ago, but all of those were negatives in terms of him being able to show what he's capable of. So, when you get to this point, we look at where he's capable of going. By no means is he a finished product."
Maybe, but he was polished enough to grab a roster spot. The team also kept fourth-round pick Cortez Allen out of the Citadel despite an injury plagued training camp and the emergence of defensive backs Donovan Warren and Crezdon Butler, both of whom were placed on waivers.
"We didn't see much, but what we saw was interesting," Tomlin said. "The fact that he's a small-college guy, but was not wowed by this at all is great. And we liked his game-day demeanor."
Allen and Saunders, however, are not expected to make much of an immediate impact. Those roles are saved for the veterans and Tomlin says three more should be in uniform next Sunday.
Center Maurkice Pouncey has been slowed by an ankle injury during camp and didn't play in the preseason finale against Carolina but should be good to go. Cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) will also play as will cornerback Ike Taylor, who hasn't played since breaking his left thumb in the preseason opener against Washington.
Taylor underwent surgery three weeks ago and will have a pin removed from the thumb on Tuesday. He's dressed for most practices while rehabbing though was limited while wearing a cast.
Taylor will head out onto the field on a defense once again led by Farrior, who was named defensive captain for the eighth straight year. This is the seventh year Ward has been elected offensive co-captain while Roethlisberger returns as captain after not being elected last year. Battle will captain the special teams after making the Steelers as the team's sixth receiver.
"To be voted on by my teammates, believing in my leadership and ability to lead our special teams unit is a wonderful thing," Battle said. "Hopefully, we can have a big year."
The Steelers also completed their practice squad: RB John Clay, WR Tyler Grisham, TE Jamie McCoy, OL Trevis Turner and John Malecki, DL Corbin Bryant, LB Mortty Ivy and CB Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.