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Steelers News and Notes: Cutdown edition

As anyone familiar with my articles already knows, I enjoy sharing my unique perspectives and opinions with our growing community. I often notice observations that are noteworthy, and worthy of mention, but not enough to justify a whole article. That’s where the inspiration for this article originated. If the article is well received by the community, I may consider adding it to my weekly in-season series of articles, along with my Steelers Stock Report articles.

First off, let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of this two-week dead period between the final preseason game and the start of the 2023 regular season. The Steelers perfect 3-0 preseason has got my juices flowing, and my adrenaline going, for the real deal. It may be nothing more than wishful thinking for this old Steelers fanatic, but I can’t shake this gut feeling that this season is going to be something special for the good guys wearing black and gold.

Steelers GM Omar Khan and Assistant GM Andy Weidl have worked tirelessly all offseason to strengthen the Steelers roster from top to bottom. The final couple of days leading up to Tuesday’s final cuts was more of the same for Khan and company. We got to witness the master at work, watching as he traded not one but two former starting offensive linemen for future draft capital. What made the trades of Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green noteworthy was the fact that both gentlemen were about to be cut, and without compensation for the Steelers. The Steelers had invested time, effort, and resources in both young men. To lose both without getting anything in return would not be good business. Thankfully Khan knows good business.

Even with the initial 53 written in pencil, Khan fully realized that his job was far from finished. He immediately set out to strengthen the Steelers vastly improved roster. Khan’s next move was to sign free agent DB Desmond King, who was recently released by the Houston Texans in a salary cap maneuver. King is a proven six-year veteran defensive back and kick returner. I said defensive back because King has the type of position versatility that Mike Tomlin and the Steelers covet. King has played both in the slot and on the outside in his career, plus he has seen some snaps at safety in certain packages. At this point of his career, King is much better working the slot, and I think that is precisely the Steelers planned usage for him, as he represents an instant upgrade for the team. King shares numerous similarities with former Steelers standout Mike Hilton. King is also an accomplished punt returner, but I think Calvin Austin lll already has that job covered. But you can never have enough quality depth.

Then Khan went to work on filling out the practice squad. He has signed 13 players so far, so he has room for 3 more if he sees fit. It’s an intriguing collection of talent and potential. A few quick observations:

Outside of Zach Gentry, Breiden Fehoko was my most surprising cut by the Steelers. Fehoko is a run-stuffing specialist, and he had a strong camp based on all reports. However, preseason football does Fehoko no favors. A fringe-level player whose main claim to fame is tying up blockers and engaging double teams simply doesn’t stand out in a preseason setting. Fehoko would have been an answer to prayer for the franchise just two seasons ago. The fact he didn’t make the 53 speaks volumes about the job Khan has done rebuilding the defensive foundation during his brief tenure as GM. It’s comforting to know Fehoko is tucked away on the practice squad when needed.

David Perales is another feel good story on the PS. I considered Perales the longest of long shots, due to his marginal athleticism, but he obviously showed the Steelers brass enough for them to consider him a developmental project worth keeping around. His insatiable energy and motor will undoubtedly be an asset working on the scout team. If Perales can find a way to hone his craft and improve his athleticism through specified training, he could stick around awhile. I am rooting for the kid.

Another talented youngster I am happy to see land on the PS was Rodney Williams. Williams is an extremely athletic tight end prospect who runs routes like a wide receiver. His blocking improved during training camp, but still needs work. Williams faced overwhelming odds at the bottom of the best TE depth chart the Steelers have enjoyed in years, maybe ever. Safe to say he overcome those odds, seeing how he earned a spot on the PS over Zach Gentry, a veteran who ranked over him at the start of camp. Impressive job indeed.

Khan also signed two extremely talented offensive linemen from outside the franchise to the PS: OT Kellen Diesch and OL Joey Fisher

Kellen Diesch is an interesting project. He is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Diesch stands 6’7″, with testing numbers on par with the aforementioned Zach Gentry. Simply put, the kid has excellent athleticism and mobility for an offensive tackle. However, his arm length is only 32″, he lacks functional strength, and he currently doesn’t possess the fundamentals or technique needed to overcome his shortcomings. Hopefully a year on the PS, under the tutelage of OL Coach Pat Meyer, will unleash Diesch’s full potential.

Joey Fisher is perhaps my most exciting addition to the practice squad. I believe that Fisher has enormous untapped potential, and could eventually be a starter in the NFL. Fisher is the classic diamond in the rough. Fisher was always the best lineman on the field in college, albeit against a much lower level of competition. He attended a small school tucked away in the wild and wonderful hills of West Virginia, Shepherd University, which happens to be the alma mater of SCN’s very own Jeff Hartman.

Fisher had the beneficial opportunity to prove himself against top competition when he was invited to the 2023 Senior Bowl. He showed he belonged with a strong week of practice. Fisher is a legit 6’4″, but he also only has 32″ arms. However, Fisher is insanely strong, confirmed by his 40 reps on the bench. He regularly tosses defenders around like rag dolls, easily overpowering them once he gets his powerful mitts on them. Fisher is going to need time to develop, and adjust to much stiffer competition. I also believe a move to guard, or even center, is in his not too distant future. His lack of arm length and ideal mobility will be minimized at an interior position. In conclusion, Fisher is a powerful run blocker with enormous potential. Hopefully Coach Meyer and company can utilize his time on the practice squad to unleash the untapped potential.

Be sure to share your thoughts and observations in the attached discussion thread. Everyone knows I love a good discussion.

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