While offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva’s claiming a roster spot at the age of 26 as a former Army Ranger is assuredly the favorite storyline coming out of the preseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, fullback Roosevelt Nix squeaking onto the roster likely comes in second due to the long odds that he faced.
A first-year former undrafted free agent, Nix was a linebacker in college before the Falcons attempted to convert him to fullback in the offseason last year. He underwent the same process with the Steelers this year, but it wasn’t his blocking ability that got him attention. It was his tackling ability.
Nix managed to record three or four tackles in special teams over the course of the Steelers’ exhibition period, but he put the exclamation point at the end of his performance with a blocked punt in the finale against the Panthers.
Nix logged a healthy number of special teams snaps, doing so without drawing a penalty—the team as a whole had nine—playing well on both kick and punt units. He played on both return and coverage units.
The 6’0”, 260-pounder gets the chance to let the inner linebacker come out on special teams, and it shows. The Steelers knew he had no chance to make the team on defense, however, so they gave him the opportunity that best suited him.
The fact that he did make the 53-man roster in spite of the fact that fullback Will Johnson is obviously there as well tells me a couple of things, with the first and foremost being that the Steelers intend to give him a helmet on game day.
Head coach Mike Tomlin reinforced this notion during his press conference yesterday when he referenced Nix as a core special teams player. Had the team not planned on activating him on game day, they could have easily waived him and placed him on the practice squad.
Should he indeed be in a helmet on game day, though, the Steelers could see fit to put him out on offense in select situations, perhaps at the goal line. While he is not a finished product as a blocker, his sheer size gives him the ability to root a defender out of a hole as long as he has a straight-line path to work with.
With Johnson primarily being used at tight end for the past couple of seasons, it is conceivable that both could be on the field at the same time. Rookie Jesse James may have to spend the early portion of his rookie season on the inactive list as a result, as Nix certainly outplayed him on special teams.
Of course, the first-year player does face the reality that his roster spot may be temporary, lasting four, perhaps two, or even no games. The Steelers have two suspensions ending after two and four games, after which they will need to open up a roster spot. But they are also scanning the waiver wire for a running back now, which could bump Nix off the roster before a game is played.