For the first time since training camp opened, the Pittsburgh Steelers did manage to use rookie outside linebacker Sutton Smith on offense during a live scrimmage drill. The sixth-round pick has running back in his background, and the team has been dabbling with him at fullback since the spring, even changing his jersey number to 42 to accommodate that possibility.
The Steelers, of course, already have a fullback of accomplishment in veteran Roosevelt Nix, who made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and is also a standout special teams player. Barring an injury, it’s difficult to envision Smith ever being used on offense in a meaningful game situation. But it’s nice to have a backup. Will Johnson and then David Johnson were the backup fullbacks in the recent past, but they hadn’t had one since then, really.
Said Head Coach Mike Tomlin after practice yesterday about the thought process behind getting Smith out on the field for some live fullback work, it’s “really just trying to cast a big net. Not only in him, but in others. The more that you can do, it helps your cause and ours”.
“He’s a guy that’s had running back in his background, particularly at the high school level”, he added in explaining why the team has been interested in testing his versatility. “Really accomplished. He’s got the frame. He was a dominant MAC defender, much like Rosie Nix was. There’s a lot of things that kind of led us to that area. But we’re just sticking our toe in the water. His main job is obviously outside linebacker and that’s where his focus is”.
Of course, his primary focus as it concerns making the 53-man roster is or should actually be impressing Danny Smith with what he can do on special teams, as he is likely competing for no better than a fifth spot on the depth chart at outside linebacker. But if he can play teams, rush the passer, and scoop out a linebacker through the hole, that would definitely help his cause.
So far through the early portions of padded practices, the Northern Illinois product has indeed found out that size can very much matter, as he has hard a hard time finding his way around some of the Steelers’ rather large offensive tackles such as Zach Banner. He will need to find ways to adjust and still have success as he did in college.
Even with T.J. Watt out, he has been the low man on the totem pole on the depth chart. Anthony Chickillo took Watt’s spot with the ones, with J.T. Jones graduating to second-team alongside Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, and undrafted rookie Tuzar Skipper has so far gained more attention than the draft pick.
But there is plenty of time between now and the start of the season to make a push, whether that’s on offense, defense, special teams, or all three. Seeing what all he can do, that’s exactly what training camp is about.