It’s likely not very often that a player, undrafted as a rookie, makes his first NFL roster three years after the fact, but that is what safety Ian Wild is attempting to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers this summer.
And he’s taking every step possible to maximize his value, which will certainly have himself in play, at the very least, for a spot on the expanded practice squad.
With the barrage of injuries that have assaulted the safety position over the entire span of training camp, the 6′ college linebacker has gotten the opportunity to see plenty of quality reps at safety, both in training camp and in the first two preseason games.
The line was short on inside linebackers yesterday, however, so Wild joined in there. Inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky was working with him on his technique throughout the practice session.
Of course, most of Wild’s background is at linebacker, much like his position coach, Carnell Lake, prior to entering the NFL. The first-year player not only spent his college career at the second level, he also spent time over the past two years playing linebacker in the CFL.
It is only his size, and not his tenacity, that has had him pegged as a safety in the NFL, after all, but he has more that acquitted himself to the role. I would say that I suspect that the fact that the Steelers are letting him get some reps at safety is an indication of what they think of him as a football player.
I say that I would say that because there is no speculation required. After practice, Mike Tomlin told the media that getting him time at linebacker as the safety group gets healthy “is a natural way for him to continue to get reps and show some versatility”.
But that’s not all he’s done, of course. He also serves in the capacity as upback, the personal protector on the punt coverage unit, and he also has the capability of long snapping, which he got the opportunity to do a bit of yesterday. The more you can do, as they say.
The thing that is most interesting to me, however, is the fact that the Steelers already often employ, or in the past have liked to employ, a quasi-linebacker safety when they shift to the nickel defense.
This is something that they’ve done with regularity, particularly over the past two seasons, with Troy Polamalu serving in that role. In the look, the defensive ends would serve as tackles with the outside linebackers serve as ends. One safety would come into the box as a third linebacker in what is essentially a 4-3 look.
It’s certainly not inconceivable that Wild manages to make the 53-man roster, although it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest that he would get the opportunity to fulfill the role that I just outlined above this season with so many players ahead of him. But the fact that he is capable of doing that, along with so many other things, is going to make him a tough player to get rid of.