The surprise standout undrafted free agents of training camp and the preseason are some of the best parts of the preseason that builds up to the regular season. You are actively in the moment of seeing a young man make his lifelong dream a reality by working his tail off in practice and showing out in the games. It is the underdog story that football puts right in front of the fan’s face every year. Ola Adeniyi out of Toledo was the Steelers’ example last year of an OLB that burst onto the scene and made the 53-man roster far more comfortably than one would expect.
Now, another Toledo OLB is trying to state his case for a spot on the 53-man roster. Tuzar Skipper has been the star of the Steelers’ preseason thus far. He’s been around the QB all game, and has stood up to the higher levels of competition with absolute ease. His nine pressures over the last three games lead the Steelers, and he has recorded a sack in each of the three preseason games thus far. He could not do much more to make his case other than on special teams, where he only has gotten three snaps before this last preseason game, where he was a special teams standout.
Now, the Steelers view special teams in an important manner, so the case of Skipper is a weird one. He could make the roster based on historical trends from the Steelers that emphasize special teams, even with only one standout game. There are still some avenues that he can make the roster, however, thus, here are a few of those avenues.
Cutting An Offensive Lineman
The Steelers routinely have kept nine offensive linemen. Under Tomlin there have only been three times when the Steelers have kept eight offensive linemen, two of which were the Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro injuries. That means this scenario might not be all that likely, but the Steelers could cut Fred Johnson and insert Skipper that way. The history does not suggest that this avenue is likely, especially with Johnson having a solid camp and preseason, but if they are bent on getting Skipper on this roster, Johnson could be the odd man odd.
Carrying Only 2 QBs
If there was any historical trend I could point to for this, it is that the Steelers almost never ever do this. Tomlin has always carried three quarterbacks and thus it doesn’t seem too likely that the Steelers would only carry Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, especially with the play of Devlin Hodges and the spurts of ‘wow’ plays from Josh Dobbs. This is unlikely, but if the Steelers were to buck this trend, Skipper might be the guy to do it for.
Trading Or Cutting Eli Rogers
It has become pretty clear that Ryan Switzer is nearly a lock to make this team. Other than Diontae Spencer, Switzer is the only guy with return capabilities that the Steelers actually legitimately trust in the return game. Rogers, in every way, would seem to be the odd man out if the Steelers want to add Spencer to the roster. However, even if they don’t and look for a way to add Skipper, it is possible that they trade Rogers for draft compensation or just outright cut him to get Skipper on the team. Johnny Holton is pushing Rogers heavily, especially after that game against Carolina, but Skipper might be simply more valuable. The more likely scenario is that Rogers is traded for a tight end, but this is another possibility.
Surprise Cut In The Secondary
The sleeper move that could be coming is perhaps a surprise cut in the secondary. It is likely that this team carries ten DBs, but should they decide to only carry nine and cut Artie Burns, perhaps, Skipper is the natural replacement on the roster. His sensational preseason would potentially earn that, but Burns has had himself a good training camp and some standout plays this preseason. The Steelers are not locked into five cornerbacks, but I think they will keep Burns, especially after paying his bonus.
Why It Won’t Be Anthony Chickillo
If you want Skipper on the roster, the natural choice that fans look to cut is Anthony Chickillo. However, not only did the Steelers give Chickillo a serious bonus in his new two-year contract, but their philosophy does not line up to cutting a guy like Chickillo. His special teams contributions are not easily replaced by anyone on the roster. Skipper had a nice showing, but Chickillo’s contributions on special teams over the year are undeniable. And to the coaches, that’s something that’ll weight with them a lot. Chickillo does offer much in terms of the pass rush or on defense really, but his contract and special teams ability make him a lock for this roster. He’s not going anywhere.
Cut Ulysees Gilbert III
This one would be just as painful as letting Skipper go, as Gilbert has been a special teams standout and a solid inside linebacker in his limited snaps. However, if they have to fit skipper onto the roster, Gilbert III might be the one to bite the dust. Gilbert has done everything he could to make this roster, much like Skipper, and they’re playing a risky game with either.
Tuzar Skipper has had a great preseason and really has done everything possible to make this roster. I could not ask for more from him in the snaps he has been given. If it were up to me, I would find a way to get Skipper on this roster, period.
Skipper can come onto the 53-man roster if Justin Layne or Ola Adeniyi are put on injured reserve after he’s released, but it’s a risky game to play. Skipper now has special teams ability and standout pass rush ability on his tape. That alone makes me scared. He’s proven to be a gem, and Kevin Colbert will be kicking himself if he lets Skipper get away. But that painful waiting game might just have to happen.
Simply, everywhere I have looked leads me to believe Skipper will only make this roster if the Steelers buck their trends. They have only kept ten linebackers once under Tomlin, and thus Skipper is fighting an uphill battle from here. He has to hope the Steelers are willing the rock the boat of tradition a little for him to make the roster.