The Pittsburgh Steelers were left short-handed upfront in yesterday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, an obviously contributing factor to the team’s anemic pass rush. Both starting outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, were ruled out with groin injuries.
That left just veteran Melvin Ingram, first-year feelgood success story Jamir Jones, and practice squad call-up Derrek Tuszka to command the perimeter of the front line for the defense, but it sounds like some spots may be flipped this week.
Tuszka, a seventh-round pick out of North Dakota State in 2020, spent his rookie season with the Denver Broncos, the team who drafted him. After being waived at the end of the preseason this year, the Steelers signed him to their practice squad on September 1.
The second-year outside linebacker reverted back to the practice squad today, an automatic, procedural move that is tied to the practice squad elevation process, but Aditi Kinkhabwala reports this evening that Tuska has “earned himself a spot on the active roster, and that the Steelers “will potentially swap spots”, waiving Jones with the intention of re-signing him to the practice squad, and officially signing Tuszka to the 53-man roster.
Feel good story? OLB Derrek Tuskza, called up off #Steelers practice squad yesterday w/ both TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith out, earned himself a spot on the active roster. I’m told that Tuskza, who won 4 nat’l titles in his 5 years at #NDSU, will potentially swap spots w/ Jamir Jones.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 27, 2021
Jones was a college free agent originally signed by the Houston Texans out of Notre Dame last year. Because of the pandemic, he didn’t have much of an offseason, and told reporters earlier this year that he didn’t even really get to practice before he was cut.
He remained unsigned all of last year until the Steelers signed him after he participated in Notre Dame’s Pro Day as an alumnus. Though they drafted Quincy Roche in the sixth round, and retained veteran Cassius Marsh, Jones ultimately unseated both players to earn the fourth outside linebacker spot on the 53-man roster.
That is because he had an impressive preseason, in which he showed both on defense and on special teams. He has appeared to continue to be effective through the first three weeks of the regular season, logging two special teams tackles so far across 29 snaps played (though he has not played on the kick coverage unit).
He has played 36 snaps on defense, including 20 yesterday, but has contributed little. He is not credited with generating any pressure on 22 pass-rushing snaps. He has two tackles and a missed tackle. Tuszka played 27 snaps for the defense yesterday, registering three tackles. He didn’t generate any credited pressures, either, but on only 11 pass-rushing snaps.
He only played two snaps on special teams during yesterday’s game, but he played 174 special teams snaps for the Broncos last season, which is impressive as a rookie during a pandemic year in which there was no preseason. It’s likely that, if the Steelers do decide to flip the two outside linebackers, special teams play will be a significant contributing factor. The way Kinkhabwala reports it indicates that Tuszka will definitely stay on the roster, and that the player he displaces may be Jones.
In the meantime, the unit is desperately hoping for Watt and Highsmith to get back on the field in a hurry.