The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have a bit of a tendency to double-dip at schools, somewhat frequently drafting or acquiring former teammates in the same offseason. For example, in 2017, they selected cornerback Cameron Sutton and then quarterback Joshua Dobbs one round apart. The following year, they drafted wide receiver James Washington before adding his quarterback, Mason Rudolph, in the following round.
This past draft, they did not draft two players from the same school, but they did end up with both of the starting tackles out of Maryland. They first used a seventh-round pick on Derwin Gray, and made Damian Prince an invitee to rookie minicamp. He performed well enough that he was signed to the 90-man roster, displacing 2018 practice squad member and fellow lineman R.J. Prince, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens.
Gray and Prince didn’t just play on the same team, they also grew up in the same area of southeastern Washington D.C.—but they were not aware of that, or of each other, until they got together on the football team in Maryland.
They immediately bonded and grew together as the Terrapins’ bookend starting tackles, becoming leaders of the team over the course of four seasons, particularly taking on leadership roles in their senior season in 2018, but now in Pittsburgh, they are novices just learning the ropes.
But they have the opportunity to do so together, which is always a luxury.
“It’s really nice to be here with him”, Prince said of being able to continue to be teammates with Gray, per Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s cool any time you’re able to do something like this with someone you grew up with. It’s something not everyone has and will make the transition a lot smoother”.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the Steelers seem to do this frequently enough. And it’s not just players from the same school who were teammates, but also players at the same position. Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo came in together in 2015, for example. T.J. Watt and Keion Adams in 2017. Last year, it was Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen, who were roommates and immediately bonded.
Gray was regarded as the higher prospect in part due to his better athleticism. According to Adamski, Prince even considered walking away from football after he originally went unsigned after the draft, so his teammate, Gray, is even happier that he made it to Pittsburgh with him.
“It’s definitely good to have himhere with me”, he said, “because of where we come from, and two, giving him an opportunity for what I believe he’s got. He’s got God-given ability that he can go play, so I am excited for him, and I am excited he is with me because that means we will do this together”.
With the Steelers’ significant depth along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, it will be a challenge for either of them to make the 53-man roster, but we’re talking about a team who could start three former college free agents on that front in 2019, so it’s not like they overlook talent for pedigree. If they perform, they have a chance. As it should be.