Xavier Grimble is a player who has only ever had a tenuous grasp at best on a roster spot, and quite frankly, that is probably how it is going to be for most of his career. It can be reasonably expected that the Pittsburgh Steelers will look to acquire a new tight end in the draft, and that could be it for the former undrafted free agent.
But the ‘X Man’ as his teammates refer to him has hung around with the team for the past three seasons now. He spent the 2015 season on the practice squad after being signed just ahead of the start of the regular season, impressing coaches and teammates.
He made the 53-man roster the following year, in large part due to Ladarius Green beginning the season on injured reserve, but he stayed on even when he returned. He made the team this season over David Johnson, who was released after the team traded for Vance McDonald.
Still, he has rarely played a significant role, and was even for one game a healthy scratch, the team electing instead to dress two tight ends. The Steelers have, for the most part, preferred using a lineman as an extra tight end over him, and have used three different linemen—Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, and Jerald Hawkins—to that end.
Recently, following the injury to rookie running back James Conner, the Steelers have been seeking to ensure that Grimble earns his keep by contributing on special teams, and doing so in roles that are largely unfamiliar to him.
Grimble actually started out the season working on the field goal unit, though that was only due to an injury to Stephon Tuitt. As the left wing, he allowed a field goal to be blocked in the third game of the season.
He was also previously used as the right wing on the punting unit before being replaced by Sean Davis, another role in which he struggled. He spent time in both of these roles last season, but can only be counted upon as a backup.
And now he is taking backup snaps on the kick coverage and kick return units. Conner had been lining up all season on the kick return unit as the right-aligned player on the ‘wedge’, such that a wedge exists anymore. It is the line ahead of the returners. L.T. Walton and Roosevelt Nix are the others on that line, for perspective.
Grimble played 27 snaps on special teams during the first half of the season, those snaps almost entirely being in Tuitt’s role on the field goal unit. Since the bye, with Tuitt healthy, he had not played at all until last week following Conner’s injury.
He played four snaps in that game, and a season-high nine in the finale, in a role that he will likely continue to serve throughout the postseason. Since Alex Kozora already broke down the kick return score, I’ll likely focus on Grimble’s special teams snaps for my weekly special teams film session.