Cobi Hamilton Just The Latest To Serve 53rd-Man Role

In the wake of an injury-riddled week for the wide receiver position, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the predictable move of calling up wide receiver Cobi Hamilton from the practice squad, in doing so releasing first-year cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz, who himself was just called up from the practice squad last week.

The corresponding move was equally predictable (though I admit I was hoping an alternative move might be made), considering that he was the last player called up from the practice squad, and the reality is that there is minimal chance of him not clearing waivers and being safely re-signed to the practice squad.

But if Hamilton should understand anything, it is that his roster spot is no more secure than Shabazz’s, and the reality is that there is a player or two like Hamilton and Shabazz almost every year—the sort of player who is used expendably based on current need, shuffled to and from the practice squad and 53-man roster multiple times in a year.

Don’t be surprised if the Steelers release Hamilton once Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton get back up to speed and call Shabazz back up to the practice squad. Although both players are capable contributors on special teams—Shabazz played several snaps there last week, and Hamilton will probably see his time there today—on this roster, a fifth cornerback is more valuable than a sixth wide receiver.

After all, it was a cornerback whose roster spot Shabazz originally took, as the Steelers were carrying second-year former second-round pick Senquez Golson on the 53-man roster even though he was dealing with the recovery process of foot surgery after suffering a Lisfranc injury in training camp.

But Golson was moved to injured reserve, which leaves the Steelers with just nine defensive backs in total, when even in lean years they hold the preference of carrying 10, and they have carried 11 on occasion as well.

The fact that the coaching staff seems to be narrowing the focus for rookie Sean Davis, who had been playing primarily in the slot in the Steelers’ base defense, but is more naturally a safety, adds to the likelihood that Shabazz will find himself back on the 53-man roster before long, I think.

As if this season were not ample proof of the concept, the roster is never static, but rather fluid, and always subject to change and alteration based on current needs. This is most often tied to issues relating to injuries sustained, though that is not always the case, as performance-based decisions also show up from time to time.

The bottom line is that no matter who is currently on the roster, whether it is Hamilton or Shabazz, or perhaps later this season it might be Xavier Grimble or Steven Johnson, these are the sorts of players who are the 53rd man on the roster based on need, and their roster spot is always subject to change. We’ve seen the 53rd spot on the roster change twice now in just two weeks’ time.

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