Just about the worst thing that a rookie can go through, especially one toward the end of the roster, is to deal with injuries that keeps him off the practice field at training camp and in stadiums during the preseason. Among the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie draft class, that has so far been the story of sixth-round outside linebacker Sutton Smith.
Smith has missed quite a bit of time at training camp already, including sitting out the first preseason game, and he continues to work his way back. Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked if the rookie out of Northern Illinois is falling behind because of the amount of time he’s been out with an unknown ailment (possibly a left hip injury, according to Alex Kozora), and he had a simple and pointed answer to that question: “yes”.
It’s as simple as that. Smith already started at the bottom of the depth chart at outside linebacker, but now we are seeing rookie undrafted free agent Tuzar Skipper and first-year Reserve/Future signing J.T. Jones making plays, recording sacks during preseason play. fellow sixth-round linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III also was a highlight of the first preseason game.
At this point, it’s easy to predict that Smith is not going to be able to make the 53-man roster, especially if he fails to get back on the field in time for the second preseason game on Saturday. Considering that there is only one more open practice between now and then, it’s unlikely that he will suit up for that game, and there won’t be much opportunity in the third.
One player working his way back to full capacity is veteran Donte Moncrief. While he is in his first season with the Steelers, his progress has not been as affected because of his history in the league. “Cumulative reps, no question. Money in the bank”, Tomlin said. “Certainly when you’re talking about a veteran player, his time spent is significantly different than a guy like Sutton Smith”.
Smith was one of the late-round rookies that Steelers fans were most excited about immediately following the draft, probably the player who drew the most buzz from the fifth round on, but others like Gilbert and Isaiah Buggs have made much more of an impact in the summer so far. As has fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry.
It’s not even a guarantee that Smith will be retained on the practice squad, because that spot could go to Skipper, assuming that he doesn’t make the 53-man roster. He wouldn’t be the first sixth-round pick in history to immediately be parted with. Colin Holba is one recent example.
Of course, there is still a limited period of time left, but we won’t see much of the work that he puts in from this point forward outside of stadiums, as the Steelers are breaking camp after tomorrow’s practice and returning to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 14, 2019