‘The best ability is availability’ is an old adage, but it’s still in use because it’s true. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you’re rarely around to be able to contribute your talents to the team effort because you struggle to stay healthy. And availability is particularly crucial to players more on the fringes.
Just look back at least season with Marcus Allen, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick who spent most of his offseason dealing with a series of injuries. He first got injured in rookie minicamp, and he pretty much did not practice again for the rest of the spring, missing OTAs and mandatory minicamp as well.
He continued to deal with injuries during training camp, even resulting in him missing one preseason game. Because of all the injuries, it wasn’t even clear he would make the 53-man roster, given the depth that they had at safety, but he earned his way over the final two preseason games.
Even on the roster, however, he spent most of the season as a healthy scratch, and only really played a significant role of any kind in one game. That opportunity only came about because three players ahead of him were not available for the game.
He’s hoping this offseason is going to be much different, with his availability lending him the opportunity to showcase his abilities, and to turn that into opportunities to get on the field in a significant role. At the very least, he is hoping to dress for every game, carve out a role on special teams, and serve as the number three safety behind starters Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds, the latter of whom was his draft classmate.
Even as a fifth-round pick, on a team that had signed two players at his position in free agency and used their first-round pick there as well, Allen was expecting more from himself as a rookie, and he took it hard that he hardly got the opportunity to contribute.
He said that he didn’t understand why it was that it played out that way—again, injuries throughout the offseason played a huge role in that—but he was determined to make sure that it would never happen again.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are getting Diontae Johnson up to full capacity after the third-round rookie was limited with what has been suggested was an injury during rookie minicamp. He is a player who could definitely have a significant rookie early on, but a lingering injury would sabotage the chances of that happening.
The team doesn’t have any clearly emerging stars at wide receiver behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, but they have plenty of guys who can play, and to catch the football, so Johnson’s playing time is going to be earned. And that is something that is hard to do while you’re watching from the sidelines, or only doing individual drills.