Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo has gone from a roster longshot to actually logging snaps on defense from the time he was drafted all the way up to Sunday’s victory against the Browns. While he has played on special teams the previous few weeks, the sixth-round draft pick made his NFL debut as a defensive contributor this past game.
But he should not get used to it—in fact, there’s a good chance he will spend the rest of the season on the bench, perhaps not even dressed.
The reason that Chickillo was granted the opportunity to log snaps on defense on Sunday is because the Steelers were without James Harrison. Earlier this year, with the rookie on the roster and Jarvis Jones missing a game, he did not play, but whether it’s because it was Harrison out or they trust him more, this time he got to play.
Not that he played a great deal—less than a third of defensive snaps—but it was significant for the longshot to see that playing time, as it wasn’t necessary to give it to him, by any means.
Historically, the Steelers have been a team that has clearly defined players at their outside linebacker positions, and they have rarely come off the field. For most of his playing career as a starter, Harrison defined that role.
This season under Keith Butler, and with Joey Porter as the outside linebackers coach, however, the team has actively used a rotation of four players, typically two on each side in an attempt to draw roughly even snaps.
When Jones was out, the Steelers only rotated three rushers, with Arthur Moats logging some snaps on both sides. But on Sunday, he saw just one snap late on the right side. Chickillo saw 22 snaps during the game (though one did come on the left side).
Was it necessary to give Chickillo these snaps? Of course not. When the Steelers began the 2014 season, they only had three outside linebackers on the roster. So with that regard, his playing time was certainly not an empty gesture.
The rookie saw time on three different drives, including a 10-play drive that spanned the late moments of the first quarter. He later saw the first 10 snaps of a longer drive, after which he was rotated out for Jones. His final two snaps came on a two-play touchdown drive after a Steelers turnover.
The team, though, is on a bye week, and that means they’re getting rested, and getting healthy. Harrison should be back after the week off, which will surely knock Chickillo out of the defensive rotation for the rest of the year.
But the team also figures to get back Terence Garvin, sort of the ninth linebacker, who has been a special teams standout for the Steelers for the length of his career. He has missed the last several games with a knee injury, which is what allowed Chickillo to get on special teams in the first place. When he returns, the rookie might be back in street clothes.