It was somewhat of a surprise move last week when the Pittsburgh Steelers activated first-year defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to the 53-man roster. One of the most surprising things about it is the fact that it brought their total number of defensive linemen on the roster to seven, which is exceedingly rare for them.
In fact, just last season, following L.T. Walton’s injury, which was preceded by a season-ending injury for Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers never even bothered to add another defensive lineman, so they finished off the remainder of the season with just five. And Mondeaux was even on the practice squad at the time.
While he didn’t make the 53-man roster outright this season (rookie seventh-round pick Carlos Davis was kept as the sixth lineman, with Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley the fourth and fifth guys), he did make the practice squad again and this year had been one of the team’s ‘protected’ players.
After being called up for this past game, he dressed over Buggs, who was a healthy scratch, and then proceeded to play—on offense, defense, and special teams. His debut came as a blocker on the opening kick return, but he also played virtually every special teams phase short of the punt coverage team.
And then he showed up as a fullback at the goal line, helping to clear the way to the right for Benny Snell for a touchdown. And he saw six snaps on defense, the majority of which were uneventful—but he did draw an encroachment penalty on 3rd and 1, and on one run on the Titans’ final scoring drive failed to hole the edge to allow Derrick Henry his longest run of the game at 17 yards. He was not involved directly in any other defensive play in the game.
“I’m just so happy for him and the opportunity he’s getting”, said veteran Tyson Alualu, the oldest defensive player on the team, and now second-oldest overall following Dustin Colquitt’s release. “He’s just one of those guys that came in, had a long road, and just showed up to work and worked very hard. He’s very deserving of this opportunity, and I’m just excited to be a part of his journey and see the growth in his journey in the NFL”.
The Steelers are not unfamiliar with finding successful defensive linemen among the college free agent ranks—or even from linemen promoted from the practice squad. Just think about the fact that Steve McLendon is not only still in the league, but still playing at a high enough level, at the age of 34, that somebody just traded for him. He made his Buccaneers debut on Sunday, registering five tackle, including one for loss.
Now is Mondeaux going to develop into a player like McLendon and carve out a nice, long, solid career for himself? One can only hope. But he’s got his foot in the door now and it appears he’s going to have the opportunity to play from this point forward.