If you recall during the preseason, Pittsburgh Steelers first-year cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz is a player that I brought up a lot over the course of time in August. I had him making my final 53-man roster, and he would have made it had the team not chosen to make the late trade for Justin Gilbert.
Of course, Shabazz is a young, tall cornerback with decent size, who over the course of the preseason picked up a lot of snaps and showed a willingness to be physical, not to mention he had a pass defensed in the end zone in the game against the Eagles.
But the real reason he is being brought up is because the young man put together some quality snaps on special teams, and he did that on a couple of different units. Over the course of the preseason, the coaching staff began feeding him more and more special teams snaps, and you can imagine that there was a correlation between his success on special teams and the team’s desire to see him play more.
I took a look at Shabazz’ play against the Eagles in the second preseason game, and by that point he still wasn’t seeing a lot of special teams snaps. I did note in a film study that he did a nice job of driving one of the Eagles’ gunners out of bounds on one punt return unit snap.
By the end of the final preseason game, he was nearly a ubiquitous presence on special teams, and I wrote in my final 53-man roster prediction column that he got the nod because “I think the Steelers have been feeding Shabazz special teams snaps with the idea of increasing his value”. Whether or not that was the intention of doing so, that was what was accomplished.
In fact, there was a point after the final preseason game that I had good intentions of doing a more comprehensive film breakdown of some of his more pertinent special teams snaps, but there was too short of a turnaround between the end of the game and the cut down deadline for me to get it up in time.
And by then, of course, the Steelers had traded for Gilbert and Shabazz was placed on the practice squad instead of making the 53-man roster, so I felt that at that point it wouldn’t make much sense to focus so much on a player who didn’t make the team. Yet I still have the note on my virtual notepad on my desktop about wanting to write an article about how Shabazz’s special teams work was pushing him over the top of a group of uninspiring options.
Even despite Gilbert’s injury, of course, Pittsburgh does not need Shabazz to play. They have their six defensive backs with which they can field a dime package today if they chose to do so. I don’t know if they would actually play Shabazz on defense, but I’m sure he is going to be active on special teams.