In case there was any doubt at the halfway point of the preseason, suffice it to say that Kameron Kelly solidified his spot on the 53-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers in last night’s game against the Tennessee Titans, and really, that had as much to do with his playing time as it did his performance.
Almost exclusively since OTAs, Kelly, the 2018 undrafted free agent who was first signed by the Steelers in April following his work with the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football, has been the third safety for this football team, behind starters Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis.
And thanks to three separate minor ailments that Davis has dealt with, he has also gotten an extended look with the first-team defense. I believe it was a groin or hamstring injury that kept Davis out of most of OTAs and saw Kelly running ahead of more familiar faces like Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen.
Then during training camp, when he suffered a finger injury during practice that created what Mike Tomlin described as an “open wound”, it was Kelly exclusively (or almost exclusively) working with Edmunds. He was with the starters in the first preseason game.
And now for the past two games, he has been on the field with the first-team defense in a new three-safety look, which sees Mike Hilton typically come off the field. Kelly or Davis would alternately come down into the box and line up in coverage, with the other playing the deep safety role.
He did that last night, but Davis also suffered a minor injury that caused him to leave the game, again putting Kelly into the starting lineup. And he made plays as well. This was certainly his most impactful game from a play standpoint.
He was credited for the tackle on a run for no gain by Titans running back Dion Lewis on third and 10 early in the game. Later, on third and 12, as rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown was looking to push for the chain, Kelly was able to strip the ball loose. While Brown recovered his own fumble, he prevented him from getting the first down, forcing a punt.
It was Kelly and Davis combining on a tackle of rookie running back Jeremy McNichols when the latter safety was injured. The former laid a big hit on the back, and Davis, on the opposite end of the collision, took the brunt of his body and folded over.
The first-year safety remained deep into the game, his final official statistic registered with under two minutes to play into the third quarter. He may well lead the defense in snaps played so far this preseason.
It’s not often that a young fringe player is able to make a wall-to-wall run like this, going from rookie minicamp all the way through to the end of the preseason performing above the line to make the roster, but at this point it’s hard to imagine that not being the case for Kelly.