This past Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz from their practice squad to the 53-man roster and many speculated that transaction was a sign that veteran cornerback William Gay might miss Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens because of a foot injury. As it turned out, Gay played against the Ravens and Shabazz dressed over cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was one of team’s seven inactives.
During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked what led to Shabazz dressing over Gilbert, who the team acquired via a trade with the Cleveland Browns just prior to the start of the regular season.
“We chose to play ‘Bazz,” said Tomlin, who later clarified that it was a special teams-related decision.
The decision to dress Shabazz over Gilbert is an understandable one and especially if Tomlin had no intentions of playing Gilbert any on defense Sunday against the Ravens. After all, Shabazz is the better punt and kick coverage player of the two and on top of that, had Gilbert dressed only to return kickoffs, there’s a good chance that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker would’ve just kicked the football deep into the end zone for a touchback to negate any opportunities for a return.
So far this season, Gilbert has played all of 11 defensive snaps in addition to returning three kickoffs for 69 yards. Moving forward with him, it will likely be a coin-flip as to whether or not he ultimately dresses for games.
As for Shabazz, he played 13 special team snaps against the Ravens this past Sunday and failed to record any tackles.