In spite of the fact that he has never seen a snap in a game—in fact, he has never seen a second on a 53-man roster, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jordan Zumwalt is a third-year player, after having spent the first two years of his career on injured reserve, dealing with predominantly a groin injury.
The whole experience has earned him a rather dubious nickname from his head coach pertaining to a wasted investment, meant playfully, no doubt, but also motivationally. But now finally healthy in his third season, Zumwalt has no choice but to do whatever it takes to make a move for a roster spot.
Evidently, the coaches feel that it might take a position switch, or at least an active expansion of his versatility. Drafted as an inside linebacker, he has spent almost all of his time practicing there when healthy during his first two seasons.
But since training camp has opened, he has worked more or less exclusively at outside linebacker, and he saw 36 snaps lined up at left outside linebacker for the Steelers in their opening preseason game against Detroit last week. It remains to be seen whether or not that is a permanent position switch, or if he will be back working at inside linebacker sporadically.
Given the depth that the Steelers have both at inside linebacker and outside linebacker, one would think that the numbers game would not be a significant factor in determining his chances of making the 53-man roster. Put simply, his chances are not good at either spot, ranking as the sixth or seventh option at either spot.
At the bottom end of the depth chart on the inside, the Steelers have Steven Johnson, L.J. Fort, and rookie Tyler Matakevich competing to claim a fourth or fifth roster spot, and a loser from this battle is likely to end up on the practice squad, assuming that loser is not Johnson.
On the outside, the back end of the roster competing for the fifth outside linebacker spot, such that there is a competition is Anthony Chickillo and rookie Travis Feeney, who just returned to the practice field yesterday. From a global perspective, Zumwalt is looking at a position somewhere around perhaps 13th in the pecking order among the Steelers’ outside linebackers, and that will never be good enough for a spot on the practice squad.
The one feather in the third-year man’s cap will have to be versatility, demonstrating some level of competence at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker, in addition to becoming a stalwart special teams player—though he only logged six snaps on special teams during the preseason opener.
It is unfortunate for a player like Zumwalt to be lost in the numbers game shuffle, but at the very least, he should finally get the opportunity to put some quality reps on tape for other teams to see. I have a hard time seeing him make the Steelers’ roster at this point, barring injury, but perhaps he will be picked up by another team.