Being on the practice squad in 2020 has the potential to be unlike anything we’ve seen in previous years, for a number of reasons, thanks to rules changes that were made in this year, some temporary, others permanent.
Potentially the biggest factor, but one that hopefully isn’t at all, is Covid-19. There is a reserve/Covid-19 list this year for players who have to be quarantined, and teams can call up players from their practice squad to take that player’s spot until he returns, without that player having to be subject to waivers.
That is one major way that the practice squad can help play a significant role in the fates of some teams this year, and one that will be temporary only for as long as the pandemic lasts—though the league will likely retain some form of infectious disease reserve list in the future, I would speculate.
But there are other changes. For instance, a part of the CBA stipulates that each week, two players from the practice squad, while still on the practice squad, each week can dress for and play in games. The only caveat is that the same player can only be used twice, but in essence, any team can get a total of 32 helmets per season out of practice squad players while never having them on the 53-man roster.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talked about this when he was speaking about some of the younger players on his roster and how they’ve been stepping up. They are a team that likes to find those obscure players who show up and make the team, but it’s harder to determine this year with no Spring and no preseason, so he believes that, too, enhances the value of the practice squad.
“The thing to really bear in mind is that the practice squad is probably gonna be just as important, or more important than ever, so being on the practice squad this year, in my mind, is like making the team”, he said. “I think most teams are gonna really want to hold on to their guys for their practice squad because they know the system, they’re kind of schooled up in the offense and defense, and you have to assume that there’s a possibility that those guy will be playing in any given week”.
“You can bring two guys up each week from your practice squad to actually play”, he added. “So making the practice squad in many ways is like making the team this year with the new rules, so it’s kind of interchangeable this year a little bit”.
We don’t know what the practice squad is going to look like yet this year, of course, but it’s not hard to imagine how things will play out. The Steelers will probably have two or three offensive linemen there, and two or three defensive as well. Perhaps three linebackers, three or four defensive backs, a wide receiver, a tight end, maybe a running back. Maybe a quarterback and a specialist.