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Steelers’ special teams roster locks for 2023

Danny Smith’s units are emerging…

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tuesday’s deadline to trim rosters to 53 players is coming soon. There are still a few ‘2 dogs/1 bone’ decisions to be made, but when one considers special teams contributions, the final roster becomes more clearer. Let’s look at who is shaping up to be a part of Danny Smith’s squad in 2023.

Miles Killebrew

The special teams captain is playing core-four units and got a piece of a punt against Buffalo. With so much turnover in special teams from a year ago, his veteran experience is much needed.

James Pierre

Pierre plays on three units, and although PFF gave him a low grade against the Bills (49.3), he showed great effort on the downed punt in the first quarter. There aren’t really any other dogs to take his bone. Joey Porter Jr. has played on some units, but hasn’t run with the first team yet.

Miles Boykin

Boykin had an excellent play in the first quarter against the Bills, preventing a punt from entering the end zone and helping to pin Buffalo at the five. He’ll earn a helmet on Sundays, meaning if Gunner makes the final 53, he could be inactive each week.

Nick Herbig

Herbig is causing a lot of conversation about his pass rush, but his biggest contributions this season are going to come with Danny Smith. He’s already running with the ones in all core-four units. With Watt and Highsmith locked into their OLB roles for the foreseeable future, Herbig could be a future special teams captain in waiting.

Mark Robinson

It’s been great to see Robinson add special teams to his contributions so far in year two. Without it, his roster spot could have been more in doubt. Currently, he’s been part of 5 different units.

Elijah Riley

The current conversation is whether or not Riley or Chandon Sullivan will be the nickel back on defense. I think Riley is already a roster lock due to his special teams participation. He’s been a part of all core-four units, logging 11 snaps most recently against Buffalo. PFF gave him a low special teams grade after that game (39.3), but his hustle and effort pass the eye test. Consider him even more of a roster lock if Tre Norwood’s injuries prevent him from suiting up against the Falcons.

Connor Heyward

Connor’s place on the 53 has never been in doubt, but his role in special teams continues to grow. Even fellow tight end Darnell Washington has been contributing on the extra point unit. Meanwhile, Zach Gentry’s role on special teams has been limited to a couple of kickoffs. If Gentry does make the 53-man roster, he would be an easy candidate to be a game day inactive.