D-Line Returnees Will Put Value Of AAF Experience To The Test This Summer

The Pittsburgh Steelers have an open roster spot along the back end of the defensive line, which they are hoping that rookie sixth-round draft pick Isaiah Buggs will be able to fill. After all, they would not have bothered to draft him if they did not anticipate that he would be able to seriously compete for a roster spot.

But while L.T. Walton’s position is now open for grabs, they do have some interesting candidates even beyond Buggs. That includes three players who were with the Steelers throughout the offseason last year, one of whom has been with them for years, including the past two on their practice squad.

That would be Lavon Hooks, who is seriously in his fifth or sixth offseason already in spite of the fact that he has yet to accrue a season. That’s right, he was in rookie minicamp earlier this month, at a point in his career in which many others are getting lucrative long-term contracts. But sometimes it just works out that way.

The other two players are pretty interesting given their circumstances. Casey Sayles was originally a 2017 college free agent signing by the Los Angeles Rams but spent last year with the Steelers. Greg Gilmore was a college free agent by the team a year ago.

Neither of them made the practice squad, but both did go on to play in the Alliance of American Football, and both earned some degree of accolades for their performances at different portions of the season, even if neither of them were exactly household names, relatively speaking.

Will that time in the AAF give them a leg up on other players in a similar position, having returned to a team that they were with the previous summer, but who spent the season perhaps completely out of football?

The opportunity to get live, meaningful, in-game reps, even if it’s at a lower level of competition, is one that is hard to pass up. The AAF also provided these players a paycheck that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten—even though there were obviously a lot of complications that ended up coming along with that.

What kind of growth did they get to experience from that level of play? Will it be evident when they return to Latrobe this summer? Their first opportunity to get back on the field for some real instructive work will come tomorrow as the Steelers open up OTAs.

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