Even though two huge names are no longer listed on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in 2019, there are still some pretty familiar names like Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward on it. With the hype surrounding free agency and the draft, the more casual fans will know who Devin Bush and Steven Nelson are. With a 91-man roster all but set, there will be guys seriously vying for the 53-man roster and practice squad that weren’t drafted by the team in April and probably remain in anonymity with fans of Steeler Nation. Not all are new, as some have been around. I’ve compiled a list of ten of the more intriguing Steeler hopefuls to know going into OTAs and training camp.
There’s so much more to this guy than the menacing look of a marquee badass and a great name. The 6’3”/248 lb. edge rusher is bigger than his roster-spot competitor, Ola Adenyi. Like his former Toledo Rocket teammate, Skipper very easily could be a camp phenom that could be hard to turn down. His 8 1/2 sacks and 60 tackles last year earned him invitations to the Chiefs and Steelers rookie minicamps. Skipper left Pittsburgh with an opportunity to compete further and touts a first-in/last-out work ethic.
Even when their kicker is lighting it up, the Steelers bring in camp competition. After Chris Boswell’s dreadful performance in 2018, the Central Florida kicker jumped at the opportunity to join a franchise (as an UDFA) that saw their playoff possibilities hampered by the incumbent at the position. Wright, a four-year starter at UCF, hit 78.1% of his college FGAs. He also gives the franchise another rocket scientist, to go with Josh Dobbs, and has aspirations for space travel. That definitely dwarfs a road trip to Cincinnati.
Anonymous for most of the pre- and regular season his rookie year, the fifth-rounder from Penn State has an opportunity at two spots on the Steelers defense in 2019. Not the HOF RB from the Raiders, the Godson of another HOF RB (Curtis Martin) will compete for a spot at dime linebacker and safety this season. With Morgan Burnett, who played in the sub package last year, gone and a thin depth chart at safety...Allen could very well seize a role.
P.J. Locke III
The Steelers did not address the safety position in the draft, which some fans will consider a failure. However, they seemed to find two strong candidates that went undrafted and have a very strong opportunity to capture a spot in a shallow position group. Locke, from the University of Texas, had offers from other teams. However, he chose the Steelers because he felt it could be his best opportunity to stick and stay. A defensive captain the past two seasons as a Longhorn, Locke may not be one (a lock), but his versatility (experience at LB and covering in the slot) and passion does give him the key to open up a roster spot. One former Steeler safety, Ryan Clark, recently issued his approval of Locke on social media and has been mentoring him.
The Aliquippa native and WVU Mountaineer is the other safety referenced above. The 6’ DAH had 54 tackles, 2 interceptions and was (like Locke) named Honorable Mention Big 12 last season. Askew-Henry, who is a longtime Steeler fan, has already shown promise in OTAs. While Ryan Clark is mentoring his competition, Askew-Henry has a slew of former Quips in his corner who played in the league.
A lot of times the fourth man at QB on the training camp roster is auditioning for other teams. That may or may not be the case for Hodges, as the dual-threat from Samford has a cannon for an arm and runs with impressive speed as well. Hodges threw for 3,076 yds with 26 TDs against 14 INTs last year and added 222 yards rushing along with 4 rush scores. The 6’1” Hodges is the 2018 FCS Walter Payton Award Winner (MVP), a three-time Southern Conference Player of the year and surpassed Steve McNair as the NCAA FCS all-time leading passer with 14,584 yards.
The fourth-rounder out of LSU in 2016 has had a lot of hard luck with injuries since joining the Steelers. Hawkins suffered a shoulder injury in a joint practice with Detroit his rookie year and an Achilles tear during OTAs last year. Both injuries landed him on a season-ending IR. The 6’6/305 pounder did get a start in November of 2017 against the Packers. His play put him in line for a top reserve spot before the injury. 2019 may be his final shot for glory in Pittsburgh, or anywhere.
Kelly was an UFA of the Cowboys out of San Diego State in 2018, but was cut before the preseason. The 6’2” corner hooked on with the San Diego Fleet of the AAF, but Coach Mike Martz saw him more as a receiver. In Week 3, injuries had taken its toll on the Fleet and Kelly converted back with ease. Two weeks later, Kelly intercepted Salt Lake’s Josh Woodrum three times in their Week 5 game and ran one back for a score. With experience in college at corner and safety, Kelly’s height, versatility and hands could give him an opportunity over Brian Allen or possibly Cam Sutton in the defensive backfield.
Johnny Holton Jr.
The deluge of ex-Steelers and ex-Raiders in Pittsburgh and Oakland respectively continues as two of them will battle it out for the same gig in the Steel City. Ryan Switzer, the incumbent WR/KR/PR, arrived from Oaktown last season and saw a majority of his action returning balls that were delivered via a foot. The three-year Raider, Holton, arrives from Phily with the reputation of speed personified. The 6’1” Holton ran a 4.42 40 at his 2016 Pro Day and could make the roster in much the way Darius Heyward Bey, another Raider speedster, did....as a special teams ace.
A few more names to google include...
CB Marcellis Branch
WR Tevin Jones
OT Zach Banner
DT Greg Gilmore
LB Lavon Hooks
RB Ralph Webb
P Ian Berryman