Earlier this offseason, the NFL altered the rules concerning the Active List for games beginning in the 2020 season. Teams may now have up to 48 players active during games, up from 46 from a year ago. 47 are a given, but the 48th player must be an eighth offensive lineman (or any more than seven, as the case may be).
This year, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to keep nine offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster. Kevin Dotson, the rookie, is the most likely candidate to be the eighth lineman under normal circumstances, but J.C. Hassenauer is also on the roster and is center-capable.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the opportunity to dress two more players for games than heh as before. “I’m not going to give them back”, he joked. “I’m definitely going to use them, for many of the reasons that we’ve been talking about”.
“This unusual environment, in terms of the knowledge of what our guys are capable of”, he added. “So if we have available guys to us, we better use them. But also, just the lack of in-game play and the number of snaps or the limited number of snaps people may be prepared to play, or how fatigue may set in on us. The rule’s a lot for us to fortify depth, and so we’re going to take advantage of that”.
Formerly, teams were only permitted to dress 45 players, technically, though all teams were able to dress a third quarterback as an emergency player. If the third quarterback had to enter the game, however, the other quarterbacks were not allowed to return.
That rule was modified some time ago to allow teams to dress 46 players, with the emergency quarterback rule being done away with, and since then, pretty much nobody dresses three quarterbacks unless there is an injury issue.
Now, teams will have yet another wildcard helmet to choose from on game day, in addition to the extra offensive lineman. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, how will they utilize it this year? They almost never dress all six defensive linemen. Could that change this year? They have 11 defensive backs in total this time around, so that could be addressed.
A further wrinkle here is the fact that teams are also permitted to dress up to two practice squad players per game beginning in 2020. The caveat is that each player may only dress for a maximum of two games, and they also must count against the active list—and they are also paid a roster-equivalent salary for any games in which they are elevated.