The Steelers have two centers and neither of them is named Chukky Okobi.
Long the heir apparent to Jeff Hartings, Okobi led the Steelers’ cuts list on a day when centers Sean Mahan and Darnell Stapleton were kept to replace the retired Hartings.
Other big names released by the Steelers on Saturday were running back Verron Haynes, special-teams captain Chidi Iwuoma, fourth-round draft pick Ryan McBean, fifth-round draft pick Cameron Stephenson, and seventh-round draft pick Dallas Baker.
The rest of the cuts were: quarterback Bryan Randall, tackle Jason Capizzi, guard Brandon Torrey, center Marvin Philip, fullback John Kuhn, wide receivers Walter Young and Gerran Walker, tight ends Cody Boyd and Jon Dekker, defensive end Shaun Nua, nose tackle Scott Paxson, cornerbacks Anthony Madison and Jovon Johnson, safeties Grant Mason and Mike Lorello, and linebackers Rian Wallace and Ron Stanley.
The Steelers also traded a conditional draft pick next season to the Atlanta Falcons for return specialist Allen Rossum, a 10-year vet who played in the 2005 Pro Bowl.
Rossum, who’ll turn 32 on Oct. 22, started 6 games at cornerback and played in all 16 for the Falcons last season. His punt-return averaged dipped to 7.8 last year from the 12.4 that ranked him second in the NFL in 2004. Rossum also averaged 23.5 yards per kickoff return last season.
The 5-8, 175-pounder entered the league out of Notre Dame in 1998 as a third-round draft pick. Rossum is the Falcons’ all-time leader in punt return yardage (1,723), kickoff return yardage (5,489), and punts returned for a touchdown (2).
Steelers of note who survived the cut were quarterback Brian St. Pierre, offensive tackle Trai Essex, running backs Gary Russell and Carey Davis, defensive end Nick Eason and outside linebackers Arnold Harrison and Marquis Cooper.
Russell and Stapleton are the only undrafted rookie free agents to make the team. Both excelled in the final exhibition game Thursday night at Carolina. The Steelers also kept draft picks Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth and William Gay, giving the team six rookies.
St. Pierre answered the question of whether the team would keep three quarterbacks, while Harrison was kept as one of six outside linebackers. He and Timmons are candidates to move inside.
Essex is something of a surprise in that he reported to training camp out of shape and then played poorly at both tackle and guard. However, Capizzi, the king-sized rookie from IUP, was never given a chance to win the backup tackle spot and was cut for the experienced Essex.
Davis and Russell join Willie Parker and Dan Kreider on the roster as running backs who entered the league undrafted. The team’s only drafted running back is Najeh Davenport, who was drafted by and later released by the Green Bay Packers before coming to Pittsburgh.
Eason, a veteran journeyman, beat out McBean and Nua for the sixth spot on the defensive line, but the Steelers might consider acquiring Kimo von Oelhoffen. The former Steeler was released by the New York Jets this weekend.
The cutting of Okobi saves the team $2 million in cap space, but other factors were involved in his release, namely that he couldn’t block nose tackles, as evidenced by the one disastrous play against Carolina when the only nose tackle he faced this preseason drove him five yards into the backfield to tackle the running back.
The Steelers will begin assembling their practice squad after noon Sunday. Players with less than two years of accrued NFL experience are eligible, as long as the player was on the active roster for less than nine games of that season. Eligible players must also have been on NFL practice squads for less than three seasons, with three games (including bye weeks) constituting a season.