With spring drills officially over, I think we all understand that we’re all in for a long haul, six weeks in total, between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. You know the drill. There’s little new information coming out during this period, so it serves as the perfect time both to look back, and to look ahead.
We’re going to be focusing mostly on the latter as we prepare—ever so patiently, of course—for training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers right now have a fairly young roster with inexperienced players that they are hoping to take on a bigger role. The problem is that in many cases, they are still waiting on those players to show them something, and that is the focus of that series—as well as the occasional veteran with lingering questions.
Show me something, L.J. Fort.
A journeyman former undrafted free agent inside linebacker, L.J. Fort has bounced around a number of teams over the last several years, but he has to be wondering if he might have finally found a home in 2016 with the Steelers, who claimed him off waivers during the preseason last year and liked him enough to keep him around.
A team that has been stacked at the inside linebacker position for the past few years, Pittsburgh none the less carried Fort on the practice squad as a six inside linebacker, and, in fact, he was initially a 12th linebacker overall, though a release a day later made it 11, with two on the practice squad, and nine on the 53-man roster.
By the end of the year, however, all 11 linebackers wound up on the 53-man roster, including Fort, who was promoted there prior to the regular season finale after fullback and core special teams player Roosevelt Nix suffered a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Fort is a player who has largely sustained himself, when able, with his special teams ability, so it was he whom the Steelers promoted to take Nix’s place on the roster, though he did not find himself active for a game until the Divisional Round game against the Broncos, during which he did play on special teams.
Since the end of last season, Pittsburgh lost not only Sean Spence but also Terence Garvin during free agency. Both of them were core special teams players, but one of them may ostensibly be replaced by Steven Johnson, who was briefly a teammate of Fort’s in Denver, and who signed a veteran-minimum deal.
The Steelers also drafted Tyler Matakevich in the seventh round, and Jordan Zumwalt is hoping to finally make an impact now that he might actually be healthy. There is plenty of competition for what is no more than two roster spots, but Fort actually has the most meaningful on-field and in-practice experience in the group with the Steelers, and the only one to have been on their 53-man roster.