It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first breaths of the 2018 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and restructures to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Up for Grabs: Special Teams Contributors
In the Mix: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brian Allen, Nat Berhe, Marcus Allen, Marcus Tucker, L.J. Fort, Matthew Thomas, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Quadree Henderson etc., etc., etc.
In case you missed the point, there are a lot of players right in the meat, the center of the 90-man roster that have opportunities to push for roster spots, and a key factor in that equation is always going to be what they are able to offer the team in the ‘third phase’ of the game: special teams.
I wasn’t going to list every name because, technically, it would be over half the roster, perhaps even two thirds. There are players more likely than others though. Darrius Heyward-Bey’s roster spot has been directly tied to his ability to contribute on special teams for years, for example. If he doesn’t earn his spot in that phase, his job security instantly becomes non-existent.
Basically, special teams plays a key and often deciding role in determining who makes the 53-man roster at the majority of positions. Even offensive and defensive linemen contribute on the field goal and extra point units, and occasionally even on kick returns, though under the new rules, that may become less common.
Think running back is immune to that? Think again. Whether it’s Stevan Ridley, Jaylen Samuels, Fitzgerald Toussaint, or even somebody else, the third running back is almost assuredly going to be asked to play on special teams. James Conner played on teams as well.
No matter how many safeties they like, they probably don’t carry five if they don’t have at least two of them who contribute on special teams. We know Nat Berhe figures to be one, but Marcus Allen will have to prove he can do it too, or risk forfeiting his spot to Jordan Dangerfield or Malik Golden.
Coty Sensabaugh is having a good training camp so far, so it’s important for Brian Allen to continue to earn his paycheck on special teams. Any young linebacker who’s not a starter or direct backup is almost assured to have his roster spot directly tied to his ability to play on multiple coverage units, and maybe return units too.