It’s not all the time that a team is able to pick up a veteran player in training camp who had not been with a team all offseason and have that guy come in and make an impact—or at least a serious push for a roster spot. But since training camp opened, the Pittsburgh Steelers have picked up a couple of guys who have a legitimate shot to make it into September.
The safest bet seems to be Curtis Riley, a free safety most recently with the Oakland Raiders last season, but who is best known for his season with the New York Giants in 2018 in which he was a 16-game starter. While not a high-level player, he has that experience and can function as valuable depth in an area of the roster in which the team is thin.
Defensive backs coach Tom Bradley spoke about the Fresno State product before practice yesterday. The third-year position coach said of his newest defensive back, “I think Curtis can help us from a depth standpoint”.
“He’s one of the guys that each day has shown a little bit more and more, and we’re getting excited about him as we continue through this process of watching him”, he added. “One of the things that’s difficult obviously about this preseason, is the fact that we don’t have the game simulations. So through drill work and things of that nature, we’ve got to try to simulate as best we can, how we’re going to play. But he’s been impressive so far in camp and we’re looking forward to seeing how he can keep this thing going for the next few weeks”.
A former undrafted free agent, Riley’s contract with the Raiders expired at the start of the offseason. No doubt strongly affected by the pandemic, much like running back Wendell Smallwood, he went without attracting much of any attention during the offseason until teams began reporting to training camp, with the Steelers coming in and adding him.
Pittsburgh’s depth at free safety can be fairly said to be lacking. Behind the starters, the only safety on the 53-man roster on opening day last year who is still with the team is Jordan Dangerfield. Marcus Allen also returns after spending most of his second season on the practice squad, while Antoine Brooks, whom general manager Kevin Colbert described as half-linebacker, was picked up in the sixth round.
There is nothing definite, but many on the sidelines view Riley as something close to a lock to make the team in addition to Dangerfield as a core special teams player, with Allen and Brooks competing for a fifth and final safety spot on the roster. Of the entire group behind the starters, Riley is the only reserve safety whose skill set is better-aligned to playing the deep safety role.