Two years ago, right around this time, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Terence Garvin participated in the team’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, and he performed well enough that he got the team to knock somebody else off their offseason roster to fit him in.
As the summer progressed, he still found that he was on the roster, well into August. He survived the first wave of cuts. Then he was suddenly on the 53-man roster, and participating weekly on special teams.
Garvin has played in every game except for the season finale of the 2013 season, for which he was injured, since he made the Steelers’ offseason roster as a rookie minicamp invitee two years ago, earning his keep as a specialist on special teams.
But this offseason may pose his biggest challenge yet in maintaining that roster spot, even considering how important special teams is when it comes to constructing the bottom half of a roster.
In terms of special teams play, Garvin is very good, the type of player that is deserving of being regarded as a captain for his contributions in the third phase of the game. He is a participant in and a benefit to just about every special teams unit, which is not to be undervalued.
But the Steelers have spent so much time accumulating talent at linebacker that it will be difficult to find him a spot, and he will most certainly have to prove himself all over again during the preseason to keep his place on the team.
Dating back to last season, the Steelers are bringing back outside linebacker Howard Jones, who proved to have a nose for the ball—including on special teams—during the preseason, which allowed the undrafted rookie to stay on the practice squad all year.
Also participating this offseason is Jordan Zumwalt, a 2014 sixth-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. An intelligent football player and an inside linebacker with potential outside versatility, he figures to be the most comparable player to Garvin, and perhaps his biggest direct competition.
And of course Pittsburgh still has its top four inside linebackers on the depth chart returning. But they have also reloaded at outside linebacker, adding four players to the position with varying pedigree.
Most notable is, of course, Bud Dupree, the team’s first-round draft pick. They also added Anthony Chickillo in the sixth round of this past draft. Earlier in the offseason, they claimed Shayon Green off waivers, and signed CFL standout Shawn Lemon to a contract.
Of this above-named group, only Dupree is a lock to make the roster, and, make no mistake, the last one or two slots at linebacker, whether inside or outside, will be determined chiefly by their ability to contribute on special teams.
But Garvin has not looked encouraging in his limited participation on defense, and he is entering his third season. if the Steelers are looking to keep a linebacker that offers more upside as a future defensive contributor, then Garvin can find himself hard-pressed to keep his spot.