When it comes to professional football, not every player is able to make the transition. The majority of them don’t last more than a season or two, and every offseason every team trims down a 90-man roster down to 63, including the 53-man roster and the 10-man practice squad.
The NFL is the elite of the elite, those who execute their profession at the highest level available in the world, and we see that even sometimes that is not enough. Who could argue, for example, that there are 32 legitimate starting quarterbacks in the league right now?
The point is, however, that sometimes players only ‘make it’ part of the way into the NFL. These are the standard position players who are only ever able to crack the roster due to their contributions in the third phase of the game, the special teams units.
While vitally important to any team’s success, I don’t suspect that you would find many of these players saying that they wouldn’t relish the chance to contribute at their actual positions, and many of them simply never do, often due to disparity in talent level, but also due to depth available at their position.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of players that I would classify as ‘special teams’ players, and time is running out for some of them to prove that they could ever amount to something more than that. And to be truthful, the recent examples of players making the transition from special teams to contributor are few.
The most recent example would be, of course, cornerback Antwon Blake, who in his second season with the Steelers and third overall emerged as a legitimate defensive contributor by the end of the year, even recording an interception and a forced fumble in the process.
Blake is slated to continue to contribute in a larger capacity in addition to being the team’s premier gunner on punt coverage units. Based on practice reports, he figures to slot into the left outside cornerback spot in sub-packages to start the season.
Shamarko Thomas is projected to enter the starting lineup, but he was drafted to be a contributor, and, in fact, contributed early in his career, so for that reason I would not include him in this category.
The special teams players on this team are the likes of Terence Garvin, Robert Golden, and Ross Ventrone. Darrius Heyward-Bey may be a special teams contributor at this stage of his career, but that certainly was not the case earlier on, as a former first-round draft selection.
Garvin and Golden both made the team their rookie seasons as undrafted free agents by the Steelers and have maintained their presence as special teams contributors since. The latter is the special teams captain, the former worthy of the designation.
Both had brief looks on defense, however, and neither really passed muster early in their careers. Ventrone has never had much of a look on defense in his career, either. At this stage of their careers, it’s hard to see that changing.