The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the New York Giants tonight at 7:30 pm ET to not only kick off the preseason, but also to begin sorting out their final 53-man roster. Nicholas Williams and Hebron Fangupo will be fighting for one of those spots from different positions on the defensive line.
Fangupo was a Week 17 acquisition from the 2012 season. He is currently listed as the second nose tackle behind starter Steve McLendon and in front of 2012 fourth-round draft pick Alameda Ta'amu. While he already will have his hands full fending off his fellow NTs, they are not the only players Fangupo needs to outperform.
Williams was drafted in the seventh-round of the 2013 draft and was immediately slated to play defensive end. He's currently listed third on the depth chart on the right end, but is ahead of undrafted rookie Brian Arnfelt overall. However, with Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward taking the top two positions, and Ziggy Hood the presumed starter on the left side; Williams is still looking up at left end Al Woods.
Woods took some reps at nose tackle during OTAs to increase his positional flexibility, a small sign of the plans the Steelers had in store for him this season, presumably as a member of the final active roster. If Woods continues to get looks at NT and performs well enough, the team may slot him as the primary backup to McLendon. If so, then the last roster spot afforded to the defensive line will be between NT Fangupo and DE Williams.
If Williams shows he can play end in a Dick LeBeau coordinated defense during his rookie preseason, Fangupo could drop a few slots in the pecking order. If Fangupo can dominate opponents' reserves like he has Steelers reserves, then the team may decide to not need five ends and two tackles.
Whoever 'loses' this battle still stands a good shot at a practice squad spot which will sustain their careers a while longer, although each man is still in fear of being passed by the guys behind them.
UPDATE: Nicholas Williams is being held out of the first preseason game, creating even more opportunity for Fangupo and Ta'amu to draw attention to themselves.
Join the discussion in BTSC's 'Steelers vs. Giants Open Thread' during the game and share your opinion on how these and other prospects are performing through your eyes.
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