The NFL can be a brutal place. And I’m not talking about the brain-rattling impacts you might see on any given rushing play on a Sunday. I’m talking about the emotional hits you’ll find in a couple weeks’ time when the dreams of hundreds of professional athletes at the top of their professional come crashing to a halt.
Every single player who makes it onto an NFL offseason roster has some sort of talent that an evaluator deemed worthy of a closer look. But 90-man rosters get trimmed down to 53, with another 10 on the practice squad. That’s 27 players each for 32 teams, more than the entirely of the MLB’s active rosters, who suddenly lose their jobs of never land the ones they’ve been working most of their adult lives toward achieving. Close enough to 1000 people, every year.
Some of them make it back the next year, or the year after that, or even five years later, but for every Alejandro Villanueva, there were literally hundreds whose names you’ll never remember. College free agent Tuzar Skipper is hoping to make sure his name is one that sticks later this month when the roster cuts are made.
A defensive end out of the MAC school of Toledo, Skipper was undrafted and unsigned, participating in the Steelers’ rookie minicamp as a tryout player. He performed well enough to be signed to the 90-man roster, displacing Keion Adams, and after two preseason games, has two sacks as an outside linebacker.
“I want to be one they have to keep”, he told Mike Prisuta for the Steelers’ website. “I just go out there every day and try to give it my best, especially during game days. I just try to show them I’m supposed to be out here, supposed to be on this team and supposed to be playing the position I’m playing”.
While he has performed well during his second-half playing time through two preseason games, he is still viewed as outside of the roster bubble, in part because he, as of yet, has hardly been a participant on special teams. With it likely the Steelers will keep six wide receivers, nine offensive linemen, and at least 10 defensive backs, keeping 10 linebackers is looking very difficult.
And right now, the edge for the ninth probably goes to sixth-round rookie Ulysees Gilbert III, who is making plays on defense and on special teams. Unless he adds that third-phase dimension to his repertoire in a hurry, he’s likely to be looking at a tenure on the practice squad.
He did say that he got some work with the first-team defense in practice this past week, perhaps an indication that the Steelers intend to take a long look at him during the final two weeks of the preseason. Currently, he is playing only behind starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, with Anthony Chickillo on the same line as him, with Olasunkanmi Adeniyi sidelined. Sutton Smitth and yesterday’s signing, Jayrone Elliott, complete the depth chart.