Aside from the numbers game, there is no greater enemy to a player on the fringe of the roster than injuries, and first-year wide receiver Demarcus Ayers has tussled with a mortal enemy this month in his quest to secure his position for a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers in his second season.
Suffering some undisclosed injury early in training camp, the 2016 seventh-round draft pick was unable to dress for the first two preseason game due to health, but the reason that he failed to suit up for Saturday’s was more of a business decision—an odd reference given his position on the surface, but it makes sense.
Having had already returned to practice, Ayers told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review following the Colts game that he did not suit up then because of the quick turnaround. The Steelers played Indianapolis on Saturday and would have only had four days in between for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Panthers.
Given the relatively sparse playing time that he would have received against the Colts in the dress rehearsal game, it makes ample sense if, given the option between the two, Ayers would choose to play against the Panthers, when reserve players see a significant amount of playing time.
“As bad as I didn’t get into that game, this is more of a big decision in terms of being able to last a whole season”, he told Rutter. He said that the turnaround “would have been pressing it. I’m putting all of my marbles in one bucket for this game. I feel comfortable with where I’m at right now to play a full game”.
So for those of you who have been pulling for Ayers, know that he isn’t giving up on securing a roster spot yet, even though he has a steep hill to climb in getting there. With the return of Martavis Bryant and the drafting of JuJu Smith-Schuster, not to mention the signing of Justin Hunter, who is also struggling to make the roster, his odds are still not favorable.
But he knows his chance is on Thursday. “I’ll be well-prepared to take advantage of my opportunities”, he said. He should indeed see an extended amount of playing time, especially given the fact that he was unable to participate in the first three games.
Ayers spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster for the final three games of the regular season due to a number of injuries suffered at the wide receiver position.
Including the postseason, he participated in four games, catching nine passes for 80 yards and one touchdown. He also demonstrated a willingness to block, although he was not given any opportunities to participate in the return game. It will be interesting to see if he gets a look at returning a punt on Thursday.