The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for options from within at the tight end position after losing their number two at the position, Jesse James, in free agency. While they are anticipating a big season from starter Vance McDonald, they are still feeling out Xavier Grimble’s functionality as a number two, and seeking candidates to fill out the depth chart.
They signed Kevin Rader, a first-year player, as a Reserve/Future signing in January, then in the draft used a fifth-round pick on Zach Gentry, who is fairly new to the position. They signed Trevor Wood as a rookie college free agent as well.
But the number three tight end with the most experience on the roster is actually Christian Scotland-Williamson, the international player who was assigned to them last season from an English rugby background. The big, tall figure receives roster exemptions for the 90-man roster and 10-man practice squad, so the Steelers decided to keep him around last season in the hopes that he can continue to grow as he learns the game.
Throughout the offseason, he appears to have done that. While he still often looks like a rugby player playing football, and his massive height—he is tied for the tallest on the team, and perhaps the NFL, at 6’9”—is a disadvantage in the leverage game frequently still, but he has shown growth, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin noticed, as he talked about just a short while ago following today’s practice.
Much like the second-year guys we’ve been talking about, this is his second training camp with us, and you see a different level of preparedness, not only in terms of understanding of the game of football, but the conditioning relative to his position. He’s much more prepared, and I think it’s reasonable to expect a jump in performance. I know that we’ve seen a significant jump in performance to this point, but he’ll have many more opportunities to continue to prove that.
Scotland-Williamson received only a limited amount of playing time last preseason, just 33 snaps in total over the span of four games, and that was with McDonald missing all of them. He was targeted just once, catching the pass for a five-yard gain.
It’s reasonable to assume that he will get a fair bit more work during the preseason this year, though it’s not yet clear that he is in serious contention to make the roster. The fact that he has an exemption to be retained on the practice squad makes it incredibly tempting to keep him there and let him continue to develop rather than to used a roster spot on a player who may not even dress for games anyway.
#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following today’s practice. https://t.co/PyLveYaHDd
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 29, 2019