NFL players with very good special team abilities still very much matter in the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers initial 53-man roster that was established Saturday afternoon is certainly evidence of that once again.
While several fans of the Steelers were hoping that the team would move on from players such as linebackers Anthony Chickillo and Tyler Matakevich, fullback Roosevelt Nix and safety Jordan Dangerfield to close out the month of August, all four players ultimately made the team’s initial cut to 53 and that’s a good sign all will be in Pittsburgh for the entire season as long as full health is maintained.
If you were paying close attention at the start of this year’s preseason, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin pretty much told everyone that the four players listed above were virtual locks to make the team’s 53-man roster this year.
“I really feel the opposite,” Tomlin said ahead of the Steelers preseason opener third year when asked if he was cognizant of having two key special teams members from last season not back on the roster 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 games. “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.”
As it turned out, Matakevich, Chickillo, Nix and Dangerfield weren’t asked to play on special teams in the Steelers preseason opener and that wasn’t a surprise as Tomlin indicated that might be the case just ahead of that contest at Heinz Field taking place.
“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 had said. “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.”
The preseason afforded Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith the opportunity to get a long look at the play of several young players in the third phase of the game and a few of the team’s rookie draft picks didn’t disappoint. Linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, running back Benny Snell Jr. and cornerback Justin Layne all represented themselves well on special teams during the preseason. Once given a legitimate opportunity to do so in the regular season finale, rookie undrafted free agent outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper also showed that he can run down kickoffs should the need arise. While Both Gilbert and Skipper were both likely considered outside the 53-man roster when the preseason got underway, both ended the four-game exhibition stretch inside it.
As for fans that are disappointed to see players such as Matakevich, Chickillo and Dangerfield all make the 53-man roster against this year, do understand that their special teams abilities trump what the three can probably offer the team as defensive players. Sure, nobody wants to see any of those three players play much, if any, on the defensive side of the football during the 2019 season. Should it come to that, it likely means several injuries to players ahead of them have suffered injuries. Like it or not, all three will more than likely dress every game this season if healthy enough to do so.
So, is this the last season for Matakevich, Chickillo and Dangerfield in Pittsburgh with the Steelers? It’s certainly possible as the contracts of Matakevich and Dangerfield will be up after the 2019 season while Chickillo might be too expensive to keep at his currently scheduled 2020 number. That’s a long time away, however, so in the meantime, just do as Tomlin and Smith will be doing this season and admire each’s play and effort in the third phase of the game all season long.