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Steelers defensive end Josh Mauro proving he belongs on the field

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The Stanford defensive end wasn't drafted, but he is rising above the other young up-and-coming defensive ends battling for a spot on the Steelers roster.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers defensive end Brian Arnfelt worked through the 2013 season on the practice squad and ended up on the 53-man roster at the end of the season, logging six plays.

Steelers 2013 seventh round draft pick Nick Williams, in all probability, would have competed for that same spot, had a knee injury not cost him the entire 2013 season.

Both players are healthy, and both are considered competitive candidates to make this year's team.

Both players sat and watched undrafted free agent Josh Mauro take snaps at right defensive end with the Steelers' second unit in Pittsburgh's 20-16 loss to the New York Giants.

Some might consider the fact the Steelers are sitting a draft pick as well as a former roster member from the previous year behind an undrafted rookie to be a mistake, either in the selection of who was there previously, or the promotion of the inexperienced player. The reality is, Mauro could just simply be good enough to justify the high placement and good enough to have earned the playing time.

Mauro performed well against the non-taxi squaders, having participated in much of the second half and the edge-setter in the Steelers' base defense and goal line down the stretch. The Steelers allowed back-up quarterback Curtis Painter to slice through them for what would eventually be the game-winning touchdown drive, but Mauro showed why there was so much excitement from this publication as well as others regarding him.

He has the ability to earn a spot on this team. He just didn't have the eye-popping athleticism to earn a draft pick.

Mauro is your quintessential work horse. He's the developing soldier, not the special ops assassin. His skills, to the untrained eye, are not exceptional, but considering he got his first stadium action against pro competition and at the very least, held his own, it's clear why he's advancing up the Steelers' depth chart.

He's getting it.

Much is said about the difficulty of rookies to adapt to the nuances of NFL-level assignments. This is especially true with the heavy burden of expectation coming from the schemes taught by Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach John Mitchell. The fact Mauro is in competition along with Arnfelt, Williams, Ethan Hemer (another undrafted rookie) and Stephon Tuitt (the probable starter at left defensive end) fairly suggests, regardless of who makes the team, a young up-and-comer will have made it. But if Mauro is legitimately leading that race, based on the playing time given in the first preseason game, he's doing a lot of things right in practice as well as in meetings.

Keep an eye on him.