In a move that it seems has been a couple of weeks in the making, the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday promoted rookie cornerback Doran Grant from the practice squad, in doing so releasing rookie quarterback/wide receiver Tyler Murphy. Murphy should be retained on the practice squad later today.
Grant’s promotion to the 53-man roster seemed assured, at least eventually, after the Steelers placed cornerback Cortez Allen on the season-ending injured reserve list in a corresponding move to activate wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who was returning from suspension after missing the first five games.
The reason for the delay was the fact that the Steelers had to promote Murphy instead from the practice squad following the hamstring injury suffered by Mike Vick. The team was down to just one healthy quarterback—Landry Jones—and nobody to back him up.
Vick finally returned to practice this week and has shown the coaches enough that they believe he will be ready to dress if necessary, which has enabled the Steelers to let go of Murphy, the fourth quarterback, one again.
The Steelers have played with just four cornerbacks in the roster—and three healthy safeties—over the span of the past three weeks. Technically, they have played the last seven games with just four cornerbacks, since Allen missed every game since the season opener until he was placed on injured reserve.
Despite Grant getting the call-up, of course, little should be expected from him, if anything, as the Steelers have been more than content to work with just their top three cornerbacks this season if at all possible, with the starters each logging over 500 snaps and the nickel back nearing 350 snaps.
Brandon Boykin, who is effectively the fourth cornerback, has logged just 23 snaps this season, much of which has only come due to injury mid-game for a couple of snaps at a time. He was given two series during the second game of the season as far as designed playing time goes.
When the Steelers’ initial 53-man roster was made, it included six cornerbacks, among them Grant, but the fourth-round draft selection was released a day later in order to make room, ultimately, for Jordan Todman, who will now serve as the number two running back going forward.
Grant’s spot on the roster was seemingly made expendable by the fact that Pittsburgh was able to acquire second-year cornerback Ross Cockrell as a free agent after the former fourth-round draft pick was released by the Bills during the first wave of cuts. The 6’0” cornerback, who has logged 337 snaps in the last seven games, dealt with injuries during training camp.
The Steelers are hoping that Cockrell, Grant, and this year’s second-round draft pick, Senquez Golson, will help define a young core of cornerbacks moving forward. Golson, of course, is already on injured reserve after requiring surgery with a torn labrum.
While Pittsburgh has failed to get any meaningful contributions out of their rookie defensive backs, the emergence of Cockrell, and his extensive playing time, has done much to offset that. Grant can start making headway by carving a niche for himself on special teams in order to earn a helmet on game day.