The Pittsburgh Steelers did not draft college quarterback-turned-wide-receiver Devin Gardner with any of their eight selections in the 2015 NFL Draft, even though they showed enough interest in him to bring him in for a pre-draft visit.
They also failed to sign him as an undrafted free agent, as it appears that the New England Patriots got to him first. But the Steelers did not hesitate to sign him after the Patriots waived him, adding him to their cache of tall wide receivers currently in training camp.
And despite the report earlier that the team worked him exclusively at quarterback during a recent OTA session, I don’t take that as a negative, nor as a definitive position switch. This time of year is a time for experimentation, and it’s obvious that the Steelers have shown an interest in quarterback conversion projects, given that they also brought in Tyler Murphy for a pre-draft visit before signing him as an undrafted free agent.
This is certainly anecdotal, but I tend to find that the Steelers don’t tend to pay much attention to a particular player unless they believe that he may add up to something, even if it means simply making the practice squad as an undrafted rookie free agent.
More accurately, I should say that the scribes over at the team’s official website, perhaps, tend to have a strong pulse on where the coaching staff may be headed, and are able to use that foresight in their content.
And Steelers.com happens to have featured an article on Gardner about his transition from quarterback to wide receiver on the same day that he was reported to have taken reps exclusively at quarterback.
The 6’4”, 216-pounder talked about not only his transition from quarterback, but also his past experience at wide receiver. He added his excitement for training camp when the pads come on and he can demonstrate his blocking “and show different kinds of toughness, things you can’t show in shorts”.
He also talked about his desire to do “whatever I can do to make the roster”, and yesterday posted on Instagram calling himself blessed for having been given “so many different skills on and off the field”, before throwing a nod in the direction of Antonio Brown.
In other words, I would hesitate to read much into the fact that he was worked at quarterback for an OTA session. After all, his history at quarterback is no doubt partly why the Steelers were attracted to him in the first place, even if it likely won’t be his throwing ability that decides his fate with the club.
In the end, I do think that there is a genuine interest in developing a player such as Gardner, which, of course, means practice squad, and not 53-man roster. Of course, there’s a long way to go before he gets there, and should he stumble, he will simply be forgotten about like so many others before him. Would the Steelers like to see him succeed in making the transition and earn a spot on the practice squad? I think the answer to that is yes, in a non-trivial, universal sense.