It’s not terribly often that a player fails to make the team, yet gets invited back to training camp the following season. Or accurately, I should say that the majority of said players do not get that opportunity, as there are usually at least a few practice squad players from training camp that get signed to Reserve/Future contracts the following season.
This summer, the Pittsburgh Steelers return six first- or second-year players who spent training camp with the team last year but failed to make the 53-man roster in any capacity, including two 2014 NFL Draft selections.
The one second-year player on the list, due only to the way that accrued seasons are classified, is 2014 sixth-round selection Jordan Zumwalt, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, and thus has had perhaps the least amount of practice experience of all the players in this article.
The other draft pick in this category is Rob Blanchflower, a tight end selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He battled injuries, but was able to show enough during the preseason to lock up a slot on the practice squad all season before signing the Reserve/Future contract back in January upon the conclusion of the team’s season.
Two other permanent fixtures of the practice squad, undrafted free agents Howard Jones and C.J. Goodwin have also been retained. The outside linebacker and wide receiver, respectively, managed to survive the duration of the season on the practice squad and were immediately retained following the season.
Beyond that, two other training camp players who later spent at least some period of time on the practice squad also earned Reserve/Future contracts: namely, defensive end Ethan Hemer and safety Jordan Dangerfield.
Interestingly, all six players, at six different positions, are facing a significant uphill battle when it comes to the numbers game. All of them figure to be on the outside looking in at the moment when it comes to earning a roster spot.
Their best case for a roster spot would seem to be not beating out the last player at their position, but rather poaching a roster spot away from another position and forcing the team to carry an extra player at the spot.
Jones, for example, would force the Steelers to carry at least nine linebackers, even though they already retain eight from last season, plus a rookie first-rounder at the position. But he would have to make the team carry five outside linebackers to make the 53-man roster, barring injury, of course.
There is precedent, however, on the current roster. After joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013, guard Chris Hubbard spent his rookie year in 2013 on the practice squad, only to make the team in 2014 and stay on the 53-man roster for all 16 regular season games, plus the playoffs, as the eighth lineman. He even got a bit of playing time. These young men should use that as motivation as they push forward this summer.