Even though NFL training camps have been given the go-ahead to start on time this year, the preseason has not escaped the effects of coronavirus.
The NFL players association (NFLPA) has supported removing all four weeks of the preseason, while the league has supported cutting down, but not completely eliminating the preseason schedule.
Dan Graziano of ESPN reported that the outcome could be one week of preseason as a compromise.
Players still want all preseason games eliminated, league continues to resist. Possible compromise involves going down to just one preseason game per team, but NFLPA doesn't want any. Thinks it raises infection risk unnecessarily (i.e, the games don't count).— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) July 17, 2020
Regardless of the final outcome, it’s obvious that the preseason will be severely abbreviated or completely eliminated in 2020 which could greatly affect how each team’s final 53-man roster looks. This is because players often find a roster spot after excelling in the preseason as undrafted free agents (UDFA’s) or unheralded “camp body” free agents that finally get their shot to play. Steelers players over the years that made the roster through preseason play include Tuzar Skipper, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Roosevelt Nix, and Johnny Holton.
Seeing which Steelers will be hurt by the lack of a true preseason is rather obvious: UDFA’s, XFL signings, practice squad players, late-round rookies, and any newcomers hoping to displace a Steelers veteran ahead of them on the depth chart. But who will be helped by 2020’s preseason situation? Let’s take a look:
WR Ryan Switzer
The diminutive slot receiver has become unpopular with Steeler Nation after a disappointing 2019, but he’s stuck around into this offseason and has a good chance at making the Steelers’ 2020 roster. “Switz” is hanging on to the #5 receiver spot by a thread, but his experience and close ties with the team could help him secure a roster spot this fall. Beneath him on the depth chart are receivers Deon Cain, Amarah Darboh, and Saeed Blacknall, all of which are tall, fast receivers who offer more on the outside than in the slot. One of the three will probably clinch the #6 receiver spot, but without a full preseason, it will be hard for the young receivers to displace a veteran like Switzer, especially in the slot.
DT Daniel McCullers
Daniel McCullers has long been a member of the Steelers as a depth defensive tackle. The Steelers did sign former Ravens’ lineman Chris Wormley to the squad, but that was to replace the loss of Javon Hargrave — meaning the depth behind Wormley is still McCullers’ spot to lose. Seventh-round rookie Carlos Davis and Henry Mondeaux are both options to displace McCullers, but without a true preseason the team might prefer to stick with a known commodity in Daniel McCullers.
OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
A preseason phenom a few years ago, Adeniyi might benefit from the lack of one in 2020. His spot on the roster would probably be secure either way, but no preseason could help him keep his spot as the main backup to T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree a little longer over third-round rookie Alex Highsmith.
LB Robert Spillane
Spillane is currently the #4 inside linebacker on the Steelers, behind roster locks Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and Ulysees Gilbert III. If he makes the roster in 2020, Spillane won’t be seeing the field much on defense, but rather on special teams. Spillane made his mark there last year and has the makings of the next special teams ace linebacker in Pittsburgh. However, the Steelers weren’t shy in bringing in some competition for Spillane this year, adding names such as Leo Lewis, James Lockhart, and John Houston — all of whom could potentially be competition as special-teamers. It’s a common theme on this list, but without much of a preseason, Spillane has a better shot at making the roster as the proven commodity at his position.
P Jordan Berry
Jordan Berry has long been the Steelers’ punter, even though he’s been rather uninspiring during his time in the league. The Steelers brought in Corliss Waitman as competition after a tough season for Berry in 2019. However, Berry will probably make the roster once again in 2020 as Waitman won’t have much of a shot at proving himself.
QB Devlin Hodges
Hodges is currently in a three-way battle for the Steelers’ #3 quarterback spot with Paxton Lynch and J.T. Barrett. While Lynch and Barrett have gained some popularity due to being more exciting prospects than Hodges, no preseason might be the final push “Duck” needs to make the roster in 2020. He gained some valuable experience in 2019, and might be the safest option of the three signal-callers.
TE Zach Gentry
Zach Gentry is currently the Steelers #3 tight end, but big, athletic former rugby player Christian Scotland-Williamson could still make a push to overtake Gentry in 2020. Scotland-Williamson has been with the Steelers for a few years as an international pathway athlete on the practice squad, but he still needs the preseason to show not only that he can play football, but perform well under the lights. Scotland-Williamson could really be hurt if there’s no preseason this year, but Gentry will be helped the most.
S Marcus Allen
Marcus Allen has disappointed in his time with Steelers, as he hasn’t managed to live up to the hype as a former fifth-round pick out of Penn State in 2018. Allen is holding off John Battle, Tyree Kinnel, and rookie Antoine Brooks Jr. on the safety depth chart, all of which have a good shot at displacing him on the roster. Allen’s chances at making the team are definitely raised if the newcomers Battle, Kinnel, and Brooks don’t have a shot in the preseason at proving they belong there instead.
Training camp is still set to start on time, which will obviously have a big part in the evaluation of players and deciding who does and doesn’t make the final roster. Players like Blacknall, Davis, Waitman, and Battle will still have a chance to impress their coaches and have a shot at the final 53-man roster.
However, there’s something different and special about the preseason, in which players are put in high-pressure settings against a new opponent every week. These game-day scenarios are an excellent tool in player assessment, and are often the best chance “long-shot” players have at an NFL career.
If the preseason is removed or shortened, it might have some drastic changes on how rosters are formed this year. It will help some players and hurt others, and might make NFL teams full of more familiar faces than normal. While it seems most fans are disappointed that the preseason might be cancelled this year, it seems to be a step towards football this fall. And if that’s the case, it’s hard to complain.