Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Tyler Murphy and first-year fullback Roosevelt Nix may likely have just temporary roster spots lasting four and two games, respectively, as superior players at their respective positions return from having served suspensions, but they are making the most of whatever time they have available to them now.
Murphy, in fact, was chosen to dress over fellow rookie third-round draft pick Sammie Coates, who like Martavis Bryant the year before him—the man serving the four-game suspension that gave Murphy his roster spot—is beginning his professional career on the inactive list.
Nix, too, dressed for the game, as should be expected, given that he made the team because of the role that he earned for himself on special teams. To that end, he recorded the Steelers’ lone tackle on a kickoff, the only one that did not go for a touchback, which is certainly one way to assure that you have a game day helmet the following week.
It was a mild surprise, however, that the Steelers gave Nix an opportunity to play on offense as well. I say mild because it was certainly not unpredictable, given that he was dressed anyway. I speculated prior to the game that he may see time at fullback in short-yardage situations.
That is, in fact, precisely what happened, as the first-year player logged five snaps, four in short-yardage rushing situations at the goal line, though he seemed to be used more as a decoy than as a true lead blocker.
For his part, Murphy logged seven snaps at wide receiver late in the game, though the game was close to being out of hand by that point, down two touchdowns with three minutes to play. He was targeted once on the drive, catching a 16-yard pass that converted a fourth and nine play with 22 seconds remaining.
The Steelers rarely employ four-receiver sets, barring the need to score in trailing situations at the end of halves, so it should not be expected for Murphy to see much playing time as we advance over the course of the next few games.
It should certainly not be assumed that Nix will see an increased workload in the following game either, given that the team rarely employs a fullback as it is, and when they do, that is a role that has been occupied by Will Johnson.
Make no mistake, in all likelihood, both Murphy and Nix are living on borrowed time, and should soon find themselves listed on the waiver wire when Le’Veon Bell and Bryant return from serving their suspensions. The subsequent plan would be to sign them to the practice squad to continue their development.
It’s still far in the future to determine whether or not either player can develop into a legitimate contributor over time. The Steelers already have a fullback, and prefer versatility from that position. And they already have a healthy crop of wide receivers in front of Murphy.
But whatever the future holds, it is good for these young players to get some exposure to the 53-man roster, and to regular season football.