The Pittsburgh Steelers promoted linebacker L.J. Fort from the practice squad earlier this week after they had to put fullback Roosevelt Nix on injured reserve with a foot injury. He was the second linebacker that the Steelers have promoted from the practice squad this year, after having previously done so for rookie draft pick Anthony Chickillo, though he also made the initial 53-man roster for a day.
With the way things may be shaping out, in fact, he may even get a helmet on Sunday in spite of the fact that he is technically the 11th linebacker on the 53-man roster, and all of them are healthy.
Even with Chickillo, the Steelers have generally not had 10 linebackers dress. Most of the rookie’s playing time had come with Terence Garvin out injured for several weeks. But with the loss of Nix, who was a vital special teams player, there is an extra hat available.
It is also worth considering that both Antwon Blake and Doran Grant seem to be battling ailments this week. Blake left Sunday’s game with back spasms and did not practice yesterday. Grant sat out with a groin injury.
Considering that Grant is a rookie—and another player who was called up from the practice squad—his game day helmet is certainly far from assured. If he does not get a lot of practice time in during the week, then he is not likely to dress unless Blake is unable to go.
But if at least one of those two cornerbacks does not dress for the game, then that will open up another game day slot for another player, particularly one who plays special teams, which is what Chickillo has done outside of 22 snaps in one game when James Harrison was out.
While Fort made some plays for himself on defense after being a late preseason signing for the Steelers, including a sack and, if I recall correctly, a key pass defensed, the journeyman has made, or tried to make, a career out of his ability to play special teams, even if he has gained some experience as a defensive player.
In fact, Fort should be considered a better special teams player than the rookie Chickillo, who was not accustomed to playing special teams in college and has been force fed his special teams assignment all offseason in preparation for him getting a spot on the 53-man roster.
It would not be surprising at all if Fort gets a helmet on Sunday while Chickillo does not. After all, he is primarily replacing a special teams player on the 53-man roster. though Nix made some offensive contributions as a lead blocker out of the backfield, his primary asset was at a special teams player, where he played more than half of the team’s total snaps.
On the season, Nix has been credited with nine tackles, though I believe he had more than that, quite frankly. He also had a key forced fumble on special teams that helped provide the margin of victory against the Raiders. This is what the Steelers are looking to replace, and why Fort was called up.