It was no secret to former Akron pass rusher Shawn Lemon that he would be facing long odds to make an NFL roster at the age of 27—the age he will be when the regular season starts—five years removed from the conclusion of his college career.
Lemon finished off his playing days with the Zips capping off a senior campaign that featured seven of his career 11 sacks, and four of his five fumble recoveries, but it wasn’t enough for the NFL big wigs to come sniffing around for him, so instead he set his sights north, spending the next four years trying to make it in the Canadian Football League, with a brief detour in the Arena League.
Flash forward four years later, and Lemon gets an opportunity to finally crack an NFL roster following a breakout campaign in which he led the CFL with 13 sacks and eight forced fumbles. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who at the time were hurting for outside linebackers.
Lemon signed with the team in late January. Things looked a lot different then. The Steelers figured they would not be able to re-sign Jason Worilds. It was assumed that James Harrison would retire, and Arthur Moats was scheduled to hit free agency.
Both Harrison and Moats re-signed since then, and the team proceeded to draft two more outside linebackers, including Bud Dupree in the first round. The Steelers now have eight outside linebackers on the roster, so Lemon knows that the odds have only gotten slimmer since his signing.
But he tries not to think about it, and just do what he can to control whatever is in his power to control. He told Adam Crowley on Steelers Nation Radio on Tuesday that he was simply looking for “an opportunity for myself to go out and do what I know I can do and put it on film”, adding that “everybody needs a pass rusher”.
He pointed out that that includes his current team. “We were in the 30s here in Pittsburgh in sacks last year” he said, “and, you know, I had 14 in the CFL, so I know what I bring to the table as far as pass rush”.
Despite the long odds, Lemon takes a realistic approach to the eventual numbers game when the Turk comes calling, telling Crowley that all he can do is “continue to put positive things on film and just try to make them make a tough decision”.
But it wouldn’t be the first time he overcame long odds, retelling a story about his time up north. “When I first came on, there was a guy that was there” he said. “He was a 13-sack guy the year before, and I came out and had five sacks in two games in preseason. So as long as I continue to do those things, I’ll let everything sort itself out”.
The road to a roster spot likely will be even more difficult this time around, however, as the Steelers already appear to have four roster locks at a position in which they rarely carry five.
But even if he fails to catch on in Pittsburgh, perhaps he’ll have put out enough on tape to get his chance elsewhere. After all, the Steelers weren’t the only NFL team kicking his tires back in January.