It’s been a rough last several weeks for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker Sutton Smith as the Northern Illinois product has missed the team’s first two preseason games of 2019 due to an injury. Smith, however, has now reportedly resumed practicing again as of Monday and appears to be on track to make his NFL preseason debut Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s fun that they tease me a bit, but it’s true,” Smith said Monday about the ribbing he received from his teammates upon him returning to practice, according to Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s what, my first day back in 17 days? What I had wasn’t a minor injury. It’s something big. I’m just blessed that I’m back as quick as I am and ready to play ball.”
While Smith’s injury that he’s dealt with has still yet to be officially revealed, many seem to think it was abdomen related. It really doesn’t matter what the injury was at this point, however, it only matters that he’s missed quite a bit of training camp practice time along with both preseason games, which he recently admitted would have been beneficial to him as part of his battle to make this year’s 53-man roster.
“It’s frustrating but you can’t think about the negativities of being out and being a rookie at the same time because it will eat away at you and put more pressure on you and you’ll end up playing worse,” Smith said, per Gorman. “I knew the time was ticking. I didn’t really read too much into it. I just knew I had to get back on the field and play fast.”
During his Monday post-practice press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked he gets a sense that there’s now more urgency from players now that training camp is over with and the team has begun to practice at their home facility and if there’s anything he’s telling those players now when it comes to the clock potentially running out on their chances of making this year’s roster.
“You know, when we break camp, man, we come back here and we get in this simulation week man, the opportunities to stake a claim on a position or to carve out a role for yourself is getting scarce,” Tomlin said. “And I think everybody understands that.”
Tomlin was also asked on Monday if he’s close to finalizing this year’s 53-man roster even with two preseason games remaining to be played.
“Oh my gosh, we got two more games to play,” Tomlin said. “So, you know, I’m just acknowledging that opportunities for them and particularly in terms of things that they need to develop; skills and tools relative to their position. These workday’s out here in preparation for those two opportunities are really getting scarce.”
The Steelers third preseason game will take place on the road Sunday night against Titans and even though most of the team’s starters will likely play quite a few snaps in that contest, other backup players currently battling for roster spots could still see considerable amounts of playing time as well. That includes Smith, who figures to play quite a bit Sunday night if healthy enough to do so because of fellow outside linebackers Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi both currently dealing with injuries.
Adeniyi won’t play against the Titans due to him recently having a torn meniscus repaired and Chickillo might sit out that third preseason game as well as he’s dealing with a minor chest injury, he suffered this past Saturday night. Smith might play most of the game opposite fellow outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper Sunday night after starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt exit the contest. Additionally, and probably more importantly, Smith is likely to play nearly every special teams snap against the Titans. Heck, he might even play a few snaps at fullback at some point against the Titans as well.
As I’ve stated ever since the Steelers selected smith in the sixth-round of this year’s draft, the undersized edge-rusher will need to prove that he can be a core special teams asset during training camp and the preseason if he wants a legitimate shot to make this year’s 53-man roster. Obviously, he’s missed the opportunity to show that with two weeks of the preseason over with and thus now he must concentrate on winning the Steelers coaches over in the team’s final two preseason games.
“That’s the best thing about it: I have two games,” Smith said on Monday, per Gorman. “It would be bad if I only had one game. But I have half the games. I think it’s a blessing that I’ve come back this fast from what I had. It’s going to be fun. I have two games. That’s more than enough film to show what I can do.”
You can bet we’ll be watching and tracking every snap that Smith plays Sunday night against the Titans and a week from Thursday against the Carolina Panthers. At worst, perhaps Smith can show enough in these two final preseason games to warrant the team signing him to their practice squad.