Prior to tonight’s game, Pro Football Focus named outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper the player to watch for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as though we needed any added to incentive to keep an eye on him. in addition to stout play against the run, he came in with three sacks, one of which produced a forced fumble.
Against the Carolina Panthers, he continued his impressive preseason, notching not one but two sacks, and again another one of them producing a fumble. This time around, he also minimally worked on special teams, and he recorded two tackles in the process.
Five sacks. Two forced fumbles. Two tackles on special teams in limited work there. Skipper’s 2019 preseason was better than the one that earned Olasunkanmi Adeniyi a spot on the 53-man roster a year ago, and I’m not convinced that the newer Rocket project isn’t a more intriguing player than the second-year guy.
Initial appearances suggest that Skipper only played much at all on the kick coverage unit, with maybe a bit on kick returns as well. We’ll have more detailed information about his snaps on special teams by the morning, but for now, the narrative is that he played a bit, not as much as he could have, and most the most of it when he did.
The question is, will that be enough? Because Ulysees Gilbert III didn’t do anything tonight to hurt his case. In fact, he blocked a field goal, and that’s often a golden ticket for a player on the roster bubble. Gilbert is definitely on the inside track to make the team, but Skipper’s road remains difficult.
But after tonight, much more possible. If we’re looking to create the best 53-man roster, he’s probably on it. I’ve said it before and it was a part of my last roster prediction, but the safest way for him to make the team would be for the Steelers to carry only eight offensive linemen, keeping two on the practice squad. Even if Fred Johnson were to be claimed, which remains unlikely, there is Patrick Morris or J.C. Hassenauer, both of whom are also center-capable, which is important.
Skipper shared the team lead tonight with six defensive tackles, including his two sacks, and he had two more on special teams. He now has 12 tackles with five sacks and two forced fumbles. You could hardly ask for more from a defensive player.
And honestly, we’re at the point at which it could be seen to send a bad message if a player can be that productive and not earn a roster spot. I don’t know that the Steelers have ever had a player record five sacks in a single preseason. Adeniyi’s three last year was already an outlier.
With Adeniyi healing from a torn meniscus and Anthony Chickillo and Bud Dupree also nursing minor injuries, it helps Skipper’s cause just a bit more, but really, this one can go either way. It will be a tough decision, and if he doesn’t end up on the roster, he’ll certainly have been the 54th man.