The Pittsburgh Steelers came into training camp with a full nine safeties on the roster, and that number was only cut down from 10 in the days leading up to camp, when the team released Jordan Dangerfield to make room for offensive tackle Kelvin Palmer, who presence was necessitated by a late decision for Mike Adams to have back surgery.
And in spite of all of that, when the Steelers took the high school field last night for Friday Night Lights, that actually only had five safeties available to them.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has been open with the fact that he is protecting some of the older defensive players from themselves, as he has yet to allow the 33-year-old Will Allen participate through five practices.
But starter Mike Mitchell has been sidelined for the past two practices with a minor injury, and Ross Ventrone has been out a few practices as well. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Gerod Holliman was missing from last night’s session due to what Tomlin revealed to be a day-to-day lower leg injury.
That left fourth-year safety Robert Golden running the first team defense again with first-year starter Shamarko Thomas. Backing them up were a trio of first-year players in Alden Darby, Isaiah Lewis, and Ian Wild.
Given the sheer quantity of competition surrounding them and the long odds that they were already facing, this has been a great opportunity for this trio of unlikely men, even if some of them, such as Lewis, have had some positive feedback from previous camps with other teams.
It is an opportunity that Holliman has let slip by, and perhaps one that he needed in light of the fact that he is a far cry from a roster lock. While he put up impressive interception numbers as a sophomore last year—which the aforementioned group chided him for recently as a product of his conference, we are all well aware of what else is included on his scouting report.
The Steelers have been in pads for the past three days, and Holliman has not gotten into much of that at all. And that just so happens to be what they need to see out of him more than anything.
While it’s true that it’s still early in training camp, there is the lingering fact that Holliman needs every rep he can get, such is the level of inefficiency in his tackling technique, as well as his level of effort.
Holliman must show a desire to be physical, and that is going to be difficult to do standing on the sidelines with a minor lower leg injury. It’s especially unfortunate that the injury has come at a time during which he could have seen some quality reps, if not with the second-team unit, then certainly with the third-team defense.
Of course, Holliman’s best friend needs to be special teams coach Danny Smith, because the only way he’s going to make the 53-man roster out of camp as a rookie is to deliver on special teams. Everybody in the safety group outside of Mitchell is or has been a special teams standout, and there’s no reason to keep a fifth safety that isn’t.