Before getting into the meat of this article, it should be known how the headline was not meant to be deceiving. No, the NFL and NFLPA aren’t close on turning the team’s weekly roster from 53 players to 60. It also doesn’t mean the Steelers have received some type of special increase to their roster number compared to other teams.
No, this is all about position flexibility. Or position versatility, as Mike Tomlin says.
While I can’t speak for the other 31 NFL franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers put a ton of emphasis on this flexibility. You have seen it predominantly along the offensive line. Players like Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler who are/were all competent at multiple positions along the line. Having this flexibility means the team can keep an extra player or two at another position since they have players who can cover multiple positions in case of an injury.
This trend is leaving the offensive line, and starting to bleed into the Steelers’ defense. Mainly in their defensive backfield. During his post-game press conference after the Steelers’ 17-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 of the NFL Preseason, Mike Tomlin referenced this trend within the organization when talking about both Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton.
“I think the versatility of all the guys. That’s just one snapshot. We’ve been doing similar things on the other side of the football with tackles, for example. Position flexibility has to be an element, particularly you’re talking about adding quality depth. You can turn the 53 men into 60 if you’ve got good position flexibility. And that’s what we strive to have.”
Couldn’t have said it any better myself. It points directly to the onus on the flexibility of many members of the team.
When looking at a situation with Hilton and Sutton, Hilton’s ability to flex back and play safety could help with the team’s depth at the safety position. Not only is it quality depth, and a player with a genuine knowledge of the defense, but also would allow the team to carry one less pure safety and keep a player like Ulysees Gilbert III, or Tazar Skipper.
If you take a step backwards and start to see the projected 53-man roster in this way, you will see the many options the Steelers have at their disposal. You look at players like Sutton, Hilton, and all those aforementioned linemen and you can cover a lot of ground without having to keep extra ‘baggage’ on your roster.
The question now becomes, is someone like Hilton actually considered quality depth at safety, or just a stop-gap if needed in a pinch? Only time will deliver that answer, but time is running out with only two weeks left in the Preseason for the coaches and players to filter the 91 players down to 53.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for Week 3 of the Preseason in Tennessee to play the Titans.