It seems to prove itself a truism every year, but early in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, injuries are already playing their part in helping to shape, if not decide, the fate of a handful of notable roster battles.
Five players already have been waived injured or placed on injured reserve, many of them at key positions with depth spots available to be seized, or at least clear priority opportunities for placement on the practice squad.
Certainly the biggest move came yesterday when the Steelers announced that defensive end Clifton Geathers was placed on the Reserve/Injured List. While it’s not yet fully clear the reason behind the move, it certainly paints the battle for defensive line depth in a new light.
Early in the offseason, Geathers seemed a favorite to lock down a roster spot. His re-signing was requested by his position coach, and he slimmed down significantly over the course of the offseason, running with the second-team line consistently.
With him out of the picture it seems more certain that veteran Cam Thomas will remain on the roster, and sixth-round rookie L.T. Walton’s chances of staying put greatly increase, but the door is now open for any of the several young defensive ends in the pipeline to step up and take that sixth spot.
The injury suffered by tight end Rob Blanchflower, which has yet to be disclosed, was unfortunate, culminating in him being waived injured two days ago after the Steelers claimed an undrafted rookie tight end off waivers.
A first-year former seventh-round pick after spending his rookie season on the practice squad, Blanchflower showed some potential and was reportedly having a good camp, even if his odds of making the 53-man roster this season took a major turn for the worse with the selection of Jesse James in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Rookie undrafted free agent Eli Rogers seemed to be rapidly accelerating up the depth chart, working with Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense before suffering an ankle injury that resulted in him, too, being waived injured. He had a legitimate shot of forcing the Steelers to carry six wide receivers, as early as it may have been in camp.
The injury to rookie undrafted free agent Ross Scheuerman also came to a player who seemed to be on the rise, even though it would seem to be difficult for any of the rookie backs to crack even the practice squad this year. He was replaced by Jawon Chisholm, who has done well, but he has an uphill battle to pass Josh Harris, who himself may only have a temporary roster spot.
Injuries have played a role at other positions as well. The number of injuries at safety has provided ample opportunity for the number of young players the Steelers have stockpiled there. Bruce Gradkowski sitting out has given the team extensive looks at Landry Jones and the other young quarterback in camp.
The back surgery undergone by Mike Adams has allowed Alejandro Villanueva to work consistently as the second-team left tackle, and gave Kelvin Palmer a roster spot in the first place. I think this will help push the team to carry nine offensive linemen this year.