The Pittsburgh Steelers moved on from a few of their core special teamers from the 2018 season this past offseason as wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and inside linebacker L.J. Fort weren’t re-signed. Because of the loss of those two key core special teams members from last season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked during his Wednesday press conference if that’s something that he’s cognizant of and if there are now certain guys that he wants to see more in that phase of the game of during the team’s preseason contests.
“I really feel the opposite,” Tomlin said Wednesday. “I feel like we got great veteran presence on our special teams units with guys like Tyler [Matakevich] and Rosie [Nix] and [Anthony] Chickillo and [Jordan] Dangerfield, and others, who have been core components of our unit still returning, Younger players who contributed in a big way last year like [Terrell] Edmunds. I’m comfortable with that unit and I’m looking for some young guys to work their way into the fray. And some guys have displayed some skills that might be in line with that, it’ll be interesting to see them perform.”
One of those players that Tomlin mentioned on Wednesday, inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, has led the Steelers the last three seasons in total special teams tackles and thus it’s hard to imagine him not making this year’s 53-man roster because of that. Fullback Roosevelt Nix and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo have also both been solid special teams contributors throughout their respective NFL careers and like Matakevich, both are seemingly destined to make the 53-man roster this year. Safety Jordan Dangerfield also has a nice special teams resume to date and while probably not a lock to make the 53-man roster again this year, chances are good that he will.
Tomlin let it be known on Wednesday that the players that he mentioned aren’t likely to play a lot, if any, on special teams in the team’s Friday night preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he already knows plenty about each of them when it comes to that phase of the game.
“Some of the guys that have been around, like I mentioned earlier, that we know have an established skill set in that area, you won’t see playing teams in the game because we’re so interested in what some of those younger guys, some of those unknown guys are capable of,” Tomlin said Wednesday. “I know that Tyler can cover a punt. I know Rosie can cover a kick and so et cetera, et cetera. You won’t see those guys doing that on Friday night.”
Who are are a few of the younger players Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith will be looking forward to watching play in the third phase of the game Friday night and the rest of the preseason? To start with, probably a few of this year’s later-round draft picks such as tight end Zach Gentry, outside linebacker Sutton Smith and inside linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III. Smith, however, is currently dealing with an unknown injury so it will be interesting to see if he’s ultimately healthy enough to play Friday night against the Buccaneers.
Rookie cornerback Justin Layne, the team’s second of two third-round draft picks this year, will also get a lot of burn during the preseason on special teams to show what he can do in that phase of the game. Safety Kameron Kelly is yet another young player that’s sure to be a core special teamer throughout the preseason as he seemingly has a good shot at making this year’s 53-man roster as a backup. Also, don’t forget about tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson, either. While likely currently considered a dark horse to make this year’s 53-man roster as the team’s third tight end, a good preseason showing on special teams would certainly improve his chances quite a bit.