Amidst yet another round of complaints about the quality of the preseason and calls for it to be truncated by half, if not more, we arrive at the final game, often the game that features the lowest quality of play because of the fact that it’s typically only played by those on the back end of the roster.
Don’t let that stop you from appreciating it, however. In many ways, the final preseason game may affect more roster spots than any other, since this is when the final decisions are made on who will man the last several places on the team.
A lot of jobs are won or lost for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Carolina Panthers, and that’s no different for tomorrow night’s game. Some of those players still in contention for a position on the team who are trying to secure those jobs are Fred Johnson, Devlin Hodges, Diontae Spencer, Ulysees Gilbert III, Marcus Allen, Johnny Holton, Jerald Hawkins, Zach Banner, Trey Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Tuzar Skipper, Sutton Smith…really, the list could go on.
It’s a momentous time in these players’ lives, especially for the rookies who were drafted late or not at all. Guys like Skipper and Hodges were invitees to rookie minicamp, and they’re still here, right at the end, competing for roster spots. That’s big. But it’s also nothing new, according to head coach Mike Tomlin, who said after yesterday’s practice that he understands the gravity of the moment.
“I have an appreciation for it, but it’s not like we hadn’t been talking about it as well”, he said. “All the roads lead to this moment. All the things that we did throughout the offseason dating back to phase one and things of that nature has built up to this, and we’ve talked openly about it along the way. It’s not maybe what you think it is”.
In other words, everybody in that locker room knows exactly where they are right now in their NFL journey, because he has prepared them for it, and the process itself naturally participates in that preparatory process.
There’s one final game. And then there are the roster cuts. And that’s all she wrote for dozens of players as they begin to find their life’s work, or continue to train in the hopes of being re-signed by another team the following year.
I think we know by now whom the fan favorites are, the ones whom fans will be cheering on tomorrow night to have big games to help them make the team. Skipper is one of them, Gilbert another. Spencer has a lot of support as well. And then there’s Duck Dynasty. If they should miss the cut, where will they wind up?