The Pittsburgh Steelers rostered a small handful of players who might have been considered longshots back in May, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, with Ulysees Gilbert III, Tuzar Skipper, Isaiah Buggs, and Kameron Kelly all making the team as rookie or first-year late-round picks or undrafted free agents. There was also Fred Johnson along the offensive line who had to sweat it out.
Now that they’re on the 53-man roster—at least for now—we got a chance to hear from a number of them about what their past few days have been like as they waited for the news, or rather the absence of news, before the roster was finalized.
“You’re just praying and hope you make the team and hope that you don’t get a phone call within that 48-hour period”, Skipper said in the locker room, via the team’s website. “How ironic is that? The time you don’t want to hear anything, that’s good news, but when you do hear something, that’s bad news. So I was leaning more toward I don’t want to get a phone call”.
Skipper, a rookie college free agent who was an invitee to rookie minicamp, solidified his roster spot as the fifth outside linebacker with five sacks in the preseason, capping off the finale by contributing on special teams with two tackles as well.
Gilbert, a rookie sixth-round pick, made it as the fifth inside linebacker, with the Steelers carrying 10 linebackers in total, which is rare. He, too, sweat out the days after the preseason finale. “You just try not to think about it too much”, he said via The Fan.
“I kind of kept myself busy, hung out with some friends, talked to family”, he said. “Just kind of did the stuff I love to do, like go to the movies, just chill around, relax. I talked to my agent here and there, but it was kind of crazy because one of the agents in my agency since 11 o’clock, and he didn’t tell my agent, so I was kind of just out, just not knowing, but we knew the whole time”.
Gilbert recorded 15 tackles, but only one came on special teams. However, he helped to make himself a roster lock when he recorded a blocked field goal in the preseason finale. He also said that he understands his role for now is participating in the third phase of the game, when he dresses.
Yet another fringe player who made enough of a push to secure his place on the team was Kelly, a first-year former undrafted free agent who was released by the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the preseason in 2018. He recorded four interceptions earlier this year, however, while playing with the San Diego Fleet in the AAF.
“I wasn’t told anything. I just sat at home, waiting for a call. I didn’t get one, and I was sure happy”, he told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I am thankful for the opportunity, and I feel like I made the most of it. And now I’ve got 16 more opportunities”.