Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has long held a reputation for being a players’ coach—a reputation amongst his own players, and amongst players around the league. That reputation has been well-earned, and is in part fueled by his ability to instill in his players from the top of the roster to the bottom that they all have the opportunity to contribute.
When he tells his incoming class of rookie undrafted free agents that they have the chance to make the roster, he can point fingers around the locker room to pick out all of the players that have made it, and are still here, taking that path.
When he tells the rookie tryout players that there is no secret, he can show them Terence Garvin, who made it to the 53-man roster for two years running after entering the league in that fashion. Two tryout players are currently on the 90-man roster.
It seems as though there is at least one player almost every year that ends up making it to the 53-man roster that way, as a rookie undrafted free agent. Last year it was running back Josh Harris, though he spent about half the season on the practice squad first before being promoted.
This year seems to provide the right mixture of candidates and opportunity to produce yet another undrafted rookie making the team, after the Steelers stocked up on interior offensive linemen. It’s almost to the point that it would be surprising if one of them doesn’t make the team.
Starting left guard Ramon Foster is entering the final year of his contract, while also playing in his final season under the age of 30. The team’s primary interior reserve, Cody Wallace, has shown himself to be a better center than guard.
Pittsburgh’s eighth lineman, Chris Hubbard, was an undrafted rookie in 2013, when he managed to make the practice squad, and stuck there all season. He was able to make the 53-man roster last season without much in the way of viable competition.
This offseason, the Steelers made sure to bring in a variety of quality competition in a draft class that seemed largely to disregard interior offensive linemen. I imagine that, had this been another year, or some of their individual circumstances been a bit different, at least a couple of the linemen the team was able to sign after the draft could have been selected.
B.J. Finney, Reese Dismukes, Miles Dieffenbach, and Collin Rahrig all enter the picture this season in order to create competition for depth along the interior of the offensive line, which seems a higher grade of competition than the Steelers typically have.
But they are not the only candidates to make the squad as an undrafted rookie, though they may have the best shot. Running backs Ross Scheuerman and Cameron Stingily may have at least a fair shot at unseating Harris, for example.
The Steelers have brought in a quartet of wide receivers, two of whom also play quarterback, who are looking to compete at a deep position. Tight end Cameron Clear has also garnered some positive attention. They may seem like longshots to make the team—and history suggests that they are—but Tomlin and the Steelers have tangible evidence that others in their shoes have made it.