If the Pittsburgh Steelers are set on keeping five safeties on the roster again, as they did out of training camp last season, then it would seem that they have a budding competition on their hands.
By the end of the season, of course, the Steelers actually ended up carrying six safeties on the 53-man roster due to the fact that they needed a temporary replacement for Shamarko Thomas on special teams.
Ross Ventrone was called up from the practice squad to fill that role, but he played so well in that capacity that the coaching staff never found the justification to send him back down, even when he himself was injured, missing two weeks if I recall correctly.
But it is another Ventrone injury that is creating what may become an intriguing competition for one of the final spots on the 53-man roster.
Early in camp, Ventrone was the victim of friendly fire when wide receiver Eli Rogers barreled into his leg following an incompletion during practice. He wound up in a walking boot and is still working his way back from the injury.
That injury, and the injuries suffered by several other safeties, have opened the safety competition up wide, with first-year futures longshots such as Alden Darby and Ian Wild getting the opportunity to showcase their abilities and not disappointing.
With Mike Mitchell, Thomas, and Robert Golden also sitting out with a variety of injuries, Darby got the call to start the preseason opener next to Will Allen at safety, and showed fairly well for himself, but he also showed up on special teams, registering a tackle, an assist, and an induced fair catch.
Wild also saw an extensive amount of playing time during the game and, at the very least, was active, all over the field. He recorded a couple of tackles on defense and played well on the kickoff team.
Both Darby and Wild have the makings of significant special teams contributors who could serve the vital role of upback if need be. As the fifth safety, that would, of course, be their primary function.
That was and may continue to be the role that Ventrone plays for the Steelers, as he developed into arguably the team’s best gunner on punt coverage. If the team does decide to keep a fifth safety, which is certainly not out of the question, the fate of the lucky one will be decided on special teams.
That is, perhaps, unless they choose to carry rookie seventh-round draft pick Gerod Holliman, whose promise lies in his ability to play center field on defense and intercept passes. On the field in the preseason opener, his movements did not look very organic, nor was he noticeable on special teams.
If he does end up on the 53-man roster, which can’t be discounted at this point, it will likely be due to the draw of his potential as an interceptor of the ball, which has been given increased attention this offseason. It certainly seems unlikely his spot will be earned on special teams or due to his tackling prowess.