While the focus of this weekend’s Pittsburgh Steelers rookie minicamp is on the draft picks, especially QB Kenny Pickett, Mike Tomlin is paying attention to all 51 players there. That includes 28 tryout players, a group we highlighted earlier today. And just like we paid special attention to that group, Tomlin stressed the importance of what this weekend means to those guys, players literally trying to catch a contract.
“It’s a rookie tryout weekend,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “We’re really watching the guys putting their best foot forward in an effort to launch their NFL careers. We’re excited about that as well.”
The Steelers often sign a least one player from the tryout pool, either someone who really stuck out or a guy already on the 90-man roster who failed to impress (i.e. didn’t show up in shape). As Tomlin’s said many times, they don’t care how you got here. Such was the case in 2019 when they had one tryout player become a central figure during the regular season.
“A number of years ago, we had a guy out here Duck Hodges start a number of games for us at quarterback, for example.”
Hodges’ NFL career began on the tryout circuit in 2019, beating out Brogan Roback for the fourth quarterback spot that year. After Josh Dobbs was traded, Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the year, and Mason Rudolph was hurt and ineffective, Hodges stepped into the lineup, winning three games in six starts. But he’s not the only example. Other tryout players to climb the ladder and play on gameday include LB Terence Garvin, perhaps the most well-known example, DL Henry Mondeaux, and OLB Tuzar Skipper. All of those players began as the longest of longshots but wound up playing on Sundays.
With that in mind, Tomlin is taking all of these guys seriously.
“You work out here in these circumstances with an edge. You really respect all the participants. You look at what they have to offer. You forecast how they might get better the next couple months and then you make the necessary decisions.”
After the league’s COVID restrictions were dropped earlier in the offseason, there was no limit on how many players teams could bring in for tryouts and the Steelers are taking full advantage of that. Most years, they do sign someone. Here’s a recap over the past couple, excluding the 2020 and 2021 when either zero or a highly limited number of tryout players were able to attend.
2019: Duck Hodges, Henry Mondeaux, Damian Prince, Tuzar Skipper
2018: RJ Prince, Damoun Patterson
2017: Matt Galambos, Phazahn Odom
2016: Cameron Stingily, Brandon Brown-Dukes, Marcus Tucker, Donald Washington
2015: Cameron Stingily, Mike Thornton
2013: Terence Garvin
That’s at least one tryout player signed in six of those seven years with at least two being added in five of those seasons. Twice, the team added four names for some serious roster shuffling. Odds are good the team will make a roster move exiting their minicamp this weekend.