The Pittsburgh Steelers have been unable to get second-year fullback Roosevelt Nix onto the field since the first preseason game, and that negative trend will continue tomorrow afternoon against the Bengals, because he was officially ruled out for the game yesterday.
This is good news for at least one player, that being first-year tight end Xavier Grimble, who saw 16 snaps on offense on Monday night during the Steelers’ 68-play stint on offense over the course of the game. That sort of usage rate for an inexperienced and unheralded player is not typically the norm, especially when it is not required.
But the Steelers wanted to use some heavy packages, running out of the 13 personnel with three true tight ends on the field, and they did so 10 times in Washington, something that they did not do with great frequency at all over the course of the 2015 season.
Part of that was because of the emergence of Nix as a lead blocker out of the backfield from the fullback position, which is not something that they have really utilized as much over the course of the past several years prior to finding Nix last season and finding him to be useful.
Even though the Steelers brought David Johnson back as a player who can serve as the lead blocker out of the backfield—he was the team’s starting fullback for a couple of years, including in 2010, their last Super Bowl appearance—they did not use him in that role at all, nor were there any multiple-back sets prior to the ‘victory’ formation at the end of the game, in which they simply take a knee to run out the clock.
Instead, they entrusted in Grimble the opportunity to see time on offense, and, as I broke down earlier in the week, he did a fairly commendable job, with all things being considered, and, in fact, when he was in the game, he was the player that the team pretty consistently used specifically as the in-line tight end.
With Nix remaining out for at least another week, the first-year tight end is likely to be given another opportunity to demonstrate his ability to contribute to the offensive side of the ball, and in doing so, to audition for the opportunity to retain his roster spot if and when Ladarius Green returns from the Physically Unable to Perform List.
It would not be out of the ordinary, of course, for the team to carry four tight ends and a fullback. After all, they just did so last season. And Grimble could persuade them to do so with his play on the field.
But that might be an impossible to task if he does not see time on special teams, which he did not on the season opener. He did play on special teams during the preseason, but it could be concerning that Danny Smith didn’t think him one of his best 11 players on any of his units, which makes his roster spot security all the more precarious.