The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Jordan Zumwalt
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 2 Years
Had we gotten to this point in the exit meeting series much earlier in the offseason, chances are good that I would have never felt compelled to write this particular one for third-year inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
But after the Steelers lost both Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency, the former sixth-round draft pick stands at least a fair chance of making the roster this year, provided that he can stay healthy, which is in fairness a very legitimate question. The UCLA product has spent his first two season on injured reserve with nagging injuries.
As it currently stands, there are only three inside linebackers rostered with secure roster spots, but there is also L.J. Fort, who spent most of the season on the practice squad before being called up late to the 53-man roster, and the Steelers also recently signed free agent Steven Johnson, whose calling card, like Garvin’s, has been on special teams throughout his career.
But neither will certainly be guaranteed everything. Fort did spend time with the team, to be sure, and he could potentially be a quality special teams player, but it is not known what the team thinks of the journeyman as a player potentially two snaps away from seeing time on defense.
Johnson, likewise, is far from a roster lock after signing a qualifying veteran-minimum contract. This time around, the Steelers even split his meager bonus between a signing bonus and a first-game bonus, for which he has to be on the 53-man roster to collect. He will have to earn his place on the roster.
That does open the door to the possibility of Zumwalt making the 53-man roster after spending two years on injured reserve. In his favor is the fact that the Steelers have kept five inside linebackers frequently, including each of the past three seasons that Garvin was on the roster.
Part of the team’s attraction to Zumwalt was his football intelligence and their belief that he could make a fairly easy transition to their system based on what he was familiar with in college. And he had shown moments in his very brief preseason opportunities when he was not sidelined with injuries.
The fact that the Steelers still have him signed to a contract means that he still has a chance. They have given up on similar players who couldn’t get healthy earlier. And roster defections open up the door. This might be the time for the Zumwalt fan club to get excited, although we might want to see if he can make it to Latrobe without pulling a groin first.