While there have been a couple of training camp injuries of note thus far, resulting in the sidelining of one player and the waiving of another, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have suffered their most significant on-field injury thus far when veteran reserve safety Robert Golden went down in an expletive-laden heap on the practice field yesterday.
Evidently banging knees on an attempted tackle, Golden’s injury was classified as potentially significant after practice. While he hopped off the field largely under his own power, he was ultimately carted back to the locker room. The full extent of his injury, obviously, remains to be seen.
As Dave Bryan noted last night, the Steelers’ rash of injuries at the safety position—this makes four now—opens up some serious opportunities, at the very least, for the youthful back end of the depth chart to get some substantial reps in practice, and likely early in the preseason games.
Whether or not Golden’s injury proves significant enough to open up a roster spot on the 53-man roster will be determined as training camp progresses, but one intriguing potential replacement could be first-year safety Ian Wild.
A former undrafted free agent, Wild played linebacker in the CFL last season, but at 6’0”, 205 pounds, it goes without saying that he would be undersized for that role in the NFL. The 25-year-old was one of several safeties the Steelers signed to Reserve/Future contracts back in January.
As Alex Kozora notes in his training camp recap yesterday, however, Wild has a cap in his feather that the other safeties he’s competing with doesn’t have—he was serving as Golden’s backup in his key special teams role.
Golden, a fourth-year veteran, served as special teams captain last season, and he was responsible for filling the critical role of the upback on punt coverage. The upback is responsible for aligning the protections to assure that the punter has adequate blocking to get the ball off.
Kozora recounts a moment in yesterday’s practice in which Wild showed heady awareness while serving as the upback. Noting that the return team had an extra rusher up at the line, he motioned to Brandon Boykin to peel off from his gunner position to account for the extra man.
It’s that type of awareness that gives Wild the potential to take Golden’s roster spot, if it indeed becomes available. With the Steelers figuring to be at least three deep ahead of whoever is Golden’s replacement, his primary responsibilities will be special teams anyway.
Not that Wild has been a disappointment at safety, however. Currently running as a third-team safety, but getting looks with multiple combinations, has made some plays, both in coverage and as a hitter.
At this point, it would probably be inaccurate to say that he is the frontrunner for what is only a hypothetical roster spot at the moment, he has the potential, in part because of his role on special teams, to climb the depth chart by the end of the preseason. His ability to long snap doesn’t hurt either. Hey, the more you can do.