A year ago, Anthony Chickillo weighed 267 pounds. He was used to playing with his hand down, in the trenches against tackles and guards.
So when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the 6th round, everything changed. By training camp, Chickillo dropped down to 254. He was moved to outside linebacker, forced to play in space and drop into coverage. But the now second year player gives big props to one man for smoothing the transition – his position coach, Joey Porter.
“He makes you really want to play hard for him because you don’t want to let him down,” Chickillo told Teresa Varley in an excellent feature piece on Steelers.com. “He’s been huge for me overall and for me learning how to play outside linebacker. I learned that I can play in this league.”
He played just 22 snaps on defense and is still waiting for his first NFL sack. Most of his rookie year impact, the few weeks he was active, come on making another coach proud. Special teams’ coach Danny Smith. Like Porter, Chickillo had nothing but good things to say.
“Danny Smith taught me how to play it in the NFL. He taught me the right way to do everything.”
But he’ll have just as tough a fight to make the 2016 roster as he did this past year, initially cut and then brought back up when it became apparent, even though never confirmed by the team, that Chickillo was in danger of being poached off the practice squad.
Four outside linebackers can be called locks: Bud Dupree, James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, and Arthur Moats. And four have reasonably sewn things up inside: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, and Steven Johnson. At maximum, Pittsburgh will keep ten linebackers.
Do the math and that leaves two spots remaining with three quality prospects: Chickillo and the two draft picks, Travis Feeney and Tyler Matakevich. Someone has to get voted off the island.
Of course, Chickillo has the leg up with a year under his belt. But by no means does that make his spot safe. And we haven’t even mentioned names like L.J. Fort and Jordan Zumwalt, clearly on the outside but there nonetheless. That sort of depth serves the ultimate training camp goal. Bring the best out in everyone, create as much competition as possible, so those that make it have truly earned the right.