In a somewhat surprising and unexpected, though ultimately minor move, the Pittsburgh Steelers called rookie outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo up from the practice squad yesterday, in turn releasing rookie defensive end Caushaud Lyons, who figures to be added to the practice squad should he clear waivers.
The motivation for making this move is not entirely clear, though given the timing, a day before the team’s next game, one would figure that it is their intention to dress him. His playing time, of course, will come not on defense, but on special teams, where they fed him snaps during the preseason.
Though his promotion brings the Steelers’ total of linebackers on the 53-man roster up to 10, they are down one for this game with starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting out a second straight game with a shoulder injury. Shazier is also a special teams contributor, so Chickillo could be filling in for him in that role.
Chickillo, originally selected in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, actually did make the initial 53-man roster, but he was released a day later after the Steelers were able to claim Lyons off waivers. The rookie outside linebacker was added to the practice squad a day later after clearing waivers.
It seemed odd for the team to be keeping seven defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, especially given that two of them were late-round or undrafted rookie who would not dress. It was assumed that Lyons was not cut when Le’Veon Bell returned from suspension because nose tackle Daniel McCullers was injured, but he remains out, and Lyons has now been released.
While Chickillo was a fan favorite, and many successfully predicted that he would make the initial 53-man roster due to his early grasp of the defense and avoidance of many rookie mistakes, his tenure on the 53-man roster could be a short one.
After the Steelers’ next game, they will be getting wide receiver Martavis Bryant back from suspension. Chickillo is basically the 53rd man on the roster at the moment, given that he was just added, so he figures to be as strong a candidate as any to be released in order to make room on the roster.
Should he not be released then, he could still find himself back on the practice squad, or with another team, in another two weeks after that when Mike Adams is eligible to be activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List, if he is ready. After another two games, Maurkice Pouncey is eligible to come off of injured reserve.
The issue for Chickillo is that the Steelers have depth at outside linebacker that they are satisfied with. Without Chickillo, they are still playing four outside linebackers who are all receiving a healthy amount of playing time.
As much as the team may be fond on him, the reality is that it will be quite difficult to keep him on a roster that is at full health. But in the meantime, getting a feel for the game day experience should be of benefit to him.