The Pittsburgh Steelers got a big game out of their rookie outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper in the preseason finale tonight as he makes one final push to make the 53-man roster. While his two sacks (giving him five in total) were big, more significant for him was the fact that he registered two tackles on special teams.
But he wasn’t the only rookie outside linebacker showing his best in the final hour. Sixth-round pick Sutton Smith, who hasn’t gotten the chance to do much at all up to this point, also had a nice night for himself, getting to the quarterback a few times, though he was officially only credited with half a sack. He also got his hand on the ball as it was released, going down as a pass defensed.
While there is virtually no chance at this point of Smith still making the 53-man roster—he figures to be no better than 11th among linebackers in terms of pecking order right now—he clearly showed enough in the late stages of the offseason to indicate that there is something worth developing there.
A groin injury robbed the Northern Illinois product of much of training camp and half of the preseason, and his first game back was the third, during which depth players such as himself get little time to play, but he had his opportunities tonight, starting opposite Skipper.
It’s been a pretty good preseason for the Steelers’ edge rushers overall, including T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who played somewhat sparingly but were able to generate pressure pretty consistently when they were out there. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi in his one game generated a few pressures despite failing to record a sack. J.T. Jones had one before he release, and Jayrone Elliott tonight had a strip sack that he returned for an 88-yard touchdown. Then there was Skipper’s five.
It’s unfortunate that injuries prevented Smith from getting a longer look this preseason, especially against a higher level of competition, because truth be told, the offensive lines for both teams were definitely below the line in tonight’s game.
With that said, I don’t think there is much of a risk of the sixth-round pick being claimed off waivers. He should safely make it to the practice squad, where he is likely to be kept even if Skipper doesn’t make the team and is added there as well.
It’s important for the team to be able to find potential depth now with the possibility of significant turnover in 2020. Dupree will be an unrestricted free agent, and Chickillo has a cap hit north of $6 million next year with a base salary of $4.5 million. If anybody else in the group steps up, it’s hard to see him play under that number.
Between Adeniyi, Skipper, and Smith, perhaps they have some of the answers already on the 90-man roster. It’s just a matter of making sure they are able to keep them all in the building.