Until Wednesday, August 5th, 2015, Jordan Zumwalt's NFL career had mostly been off to a roaring stop.
Selected by the Steelers in the 2014 NFL Draft, Zumwalt's chances to make the team were put into early jeopardy after he was injured in the pre-season. As a sixth-round pick, there was no guarantee he would have made the team healthy, let alone injured. However, the team placed him on Injured Reserve and opted to let him hang around rather than giving him an injury settlement and sending him on his way.
Clearly, they saw something. The same can't necessarily be said for fullback Roosevelt Nix, who probably didn't see the Zumwalt Express that ran him over today. If he did, it wasn't for very long.
Nix caught a pass and, as he turned to take the ball upfield, he was met by Zumwalt and safety Gerod Holliman. Reportedly, it was Zumwalt who provided most of the impact -- though it is heartening to hear of Holliman willing to mix it up with a 260-pound beast like Nix.
According to Scout.com's Jim Wexell, Zumwalt enjoyed it as much as coaches and fans, saying, "It felt good."
Zumwalt faces an uphill battle, though it isn't insurmountable. The man he with whom will likely be competing for a roster spot is fellow inside linebacker Terence Garvin, who has been a beast on special teams but lacks the ideal size to play consistently at his defensive position. In fact, the most memorable moment of Garvin's career may well have been when he ended a punter's season in 2013.
Zumwalt is a little taller, a little heavier, and a little younger. He also has precisely zero NFL game experience, which is certainly playing against him. But, if he can excel at special teams as Garvin has, the opportunity is there. He's simply got more talent, but he has a very short time in which to put that together.
There have been flashes of it, though. One of the harder things for a young inside linebacker to do is getting through traffic in the running game. 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier struggled with precisely that at times as a rookie. One play before trucking Nix, though, Zumwalt found his way through traffic, including a block by leviathan-like tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and dropped recently signed running back Jawon Chisolm in the backfield.
Before camp in 2014, Zumwalt was a bit of a fan-favorite because of his tenacity and a nose for the ball, despite being an undersized outside linebacker at UCLA. Now, he's a tenacious, right-sized inside linebacker looking to fight his way onto the roster. He's going to have to be a quick study on special teams if he wants any shot at making the team in 2015. The hard part is beating out Garvin, who already went down that same road two seasons ago. But Garvin will need to stay clear of the tracks, because the train is a-comin'.
Just ask Nix.