By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers elected to keep six wide receivers on their 53-man roster heading into their first NFL game of the regular season Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, and with the injury to veteran free-agent Lance Moore, the move makes perfects sense. It’s clear that rookie receiver Martavis Bryant will be seeing the 2014 season as a sort of red-shirt situation. Four other players who missed some practice time this week have been upgraded, but offensive lineman Cody Wallace is questionable for Sunday.

The groin injury Moore suffered in the preseason opens up more playing time for second-year receiver Justin Brown, especially when the Steelers open up the passing game to three wideouts. Brown has been improving and was inserted into the offense in the Steelers’ third preseason game when Moore was injured against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“(Justin’s) worked his tail off since the day he’s been here,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Brown, a sixth-round draft pick selection in 2013 who spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad. “I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit for the opportunity. He’s a big guy (6-foot-3, 209 pounds), and when you talk about that slot position you’re talking about a guy who has to block some big-bodied people in the run game.”  Brown just wants to give the Steelers the best he has and is anxious for the opportunity.

Spaeth’s hamstring issues seem to have worked themselves out enough that Pittsburgh placed him on the ‘probable’ list.  Opposite fellow tight end Heath Miller, Spaeth has provided additional blocking and passing outlets to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and is likely to do so again against the Browns.  Michael Palmer is the third tight end and could play if Spaeth tightens up again Sunday.

News that Sean Spence was upgraded and returned to practice at the end of the week is good news for the Steelers defense.  pence has been critical to not only aiding the run-stop, but will be counted on to keep Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer disrupted. If the Browns throw in Johnny Manziel, Spence’s addition to the lineup will be important to keeping ‘Johnny Football’ from taking advantage of his ability to scramble and gain yardage with his own two feet.  Watch for a mixture of Ryan Shazier and Terence Garvin being inserted into the Steelers defense to help Spence with inside linebacker duties on the left side.

With Brice McCain out, the Steelers will move recent free-agent addition B.W. Webb behind veteran Ike Taylor at right cornerback. Cortez Allen, William Gay and Antwon Blake will most likely all see action on the left side of the defensive backfield to contain A.J. Green, Brandon Tate and Marvin Jones. Green and Tate are high-value targets for Hoyer, and if the running game doesn’t get started early with Giovanni Bernard, the Bengals will be looking for opportunities to stretch the field.

Probable:

  • Long-snapper Greg Warren (knee)
  • Linebacker Sean Spence (knee)
  • Tight End Matt Spaeth (hamstring)

Questionable:

  • Offensive Lineman Cody Wallace (finger)

Doubtful:

  • Wide Receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder)

Out:

  • Wide Receiver Lance Moore (groin)
  • Cornerback Brice McCain (groin)

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.