After the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their draft, the third pick in the sixth round was not exactly the player that everybody was excited about. Outside of Derwin Gray, the seventh-round offensive lineman, there was nobody who drew less immediate interest. Both Sutton Smith and Isaiah Buggs were considered more intriguing prospects among the sixth-round selections.
The inside linebacker out of Akron, however, quickly emerged in training camp and the preseason as one of the most exciting young defensive players on the roster, earning more and more playing time, both on defense and on special teams. He understands that he made the 53-man roster because of what he showed for Danny Smith’s group as much as anything else, capping off his preseason with a blocked field goal.
“I feel like I put on a good special teams look as well as defense”, he told reporters about his preseason performance, via The Fan. “I think I showed my speed a lot. I think I showed that I could be comfortable in certain situations. I think I just gave myself a chance by some of the plays I made. At the end of the day, I was just having fun out there and doing what I know I could do, and I’m just thankful that it helped”.
Although he played extensively on special teams, amassing over five snaps across five different units, he was only officially credited with one tackle, which came in game two, but as I’ve been harping on for weeks now, special teams is about a lot more than just who is making the tackles and returning the kicks.
From a defensive perspective, he did total 15 tackles with a sack and a half with a forced fumble. He also intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt. But he knows, playing behind Devin Bush, Mark Barron, and Vince Williams, that his focus from the team’s perspective is elsewhere.
“It’s just special teams right now”, he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Special teams and just helping the team in any way I can, and that’s what I’m willing to do”. He added of those special teams duties, “I’m embracing it. It’s just a blessing to be here, so I’d rather do anything I could do just to be on this team, stick around, and just help this team get to seven”.
Seven, of course, is referring to a seventh Lombardi Trophy, that which is awarded to the winner of each Super Bowl. The Steelers are tied for the most in NFL history with the team against him he will play his first game, the New England Patriots, who have won three of the past five.
“It is big”, he said of starting his career against Tom Brady and company. “It is kind of insane going against the reigning Super Bowl champs. But I’m ready for it. I’m excited for it. I’m ready to go”.