It is easy to get swept away with the thought of new talent invading the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whether it is in the form of free agency or the NFL Draft, it can be tantalizing to think about some new players wearing the black and gold, making impact plays all over the field. However, sometimes fans seem to forget about the players who are on the team, yet don't see time. I'm referring to the team's players who spent 2014 on the practice squad.
Could some of the questions the team has be answered by players who essentially were red shirted in their first year in the NFL? It is possible. Take a look at the holes on the Steelers' roster, and player who could help fill those holes whether it be depth, or vying for significant playing time next season.
Running Back: We all know Le'Veon Bell is going to get suspended for his August 2014 DUI, and even though the duration of the suspension isn't known yet, there will be time when the league's best overall back won't be in the lineup for Pittsburgh. DeAngelo Williams was brought in to fill in during Bell's absence, but who will fill in when Williams needs spelled? Josh Harris spent the majority of last season on the practice squad, and could certainly be called up for backup duties when Bell's suspension forces the team to test their depth. Harris saw time in the Steelers' season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, as well as time against the Baltimore Raves in the playoffs. The team signed him to a future/reserve contract, giving him every chance to be the 3rd running back on the team's roster in 2015.
Tight End: Heath Miller is, well, Heath Miller. Miller is getting up in age and although his overall play hasn't started to slip yet, the team would be wise to start looking for his replacement. Matt Spaeth signed a new 2-year contract before free agency began, but Spaeth is primarily used as a blocker in the Steelers' offense. Rob Blanchflower was drafted in 2014 and spent the year on the team's practice squad. Blanchflower was thought to be a player similar to Miller. Not top end speed, above average blocker yet can catch the ball when called upon. If the team doesn't target a tight end in the NFL draft, it might be due to the fact they like what they have in Blanchflower after a year on the practice squad.
Wide Receiver: The Steelers have one of the more dynamic receiving corps in the NFL with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton as the top 3 wide outs, but after them who is there? The team re-signed Darrius Heyward Bey recently, but as a pass catcher he leaves a lot to be desired. Many are talking about receiver being a target in the upcoming draft, but C.J. Goodwin might have something to say about those plans. Goodwin was the player who Hall of Fame safety Mel Blount told the organization they should take a look at, and he has stuck around. Goodwin has the size the Steelers like (6-foot 3-inches tall), and will have a chance to make his case for making the team's 53-man roster in training camp.
Defensive Line: The Steelers are thin along the defensive line. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas and newly signed Clifton Geathers are the only defensive ends/tackles on the roster, and Geathers was a mid-season signing after Brett Keisel's season ending triceps injury in 2014. There are two players who saw time on the 2014 practice squad who might be poised to crack the 53-man roster in 2015. Ethan Hemer and Joe Kruger are considered to be bright young prospects who can play multiple positions along the defensive line. The Steelers might be looking to draft a defensive lineman, but there might be two qualified players already within the organization who know the system and are ready to step up in Kruger and Hemer.
Offensive Tackle: Some might not think a former defensive lineman could turn into a quality offensive tackle, but the Steelers are taking a gamble and trusting Mike Munchak's coaching ability when they signed Alejandro Villanueva to a futures contract. Some might think he is a wasted project, but when you see his size (6-feet 9-inches tall, 270 pounds) there is a chance for the size to give way to potential. Villanueva might be more known for his work within the United States Army, but the Steelers are hoping he is remembered more as a project turned into success at offensive tackle.
Outside Linebacker: Although some think a pass rusher is the utmost importance for the Steelers heading into the 2015 draft, but some people forget about the pass rusher who was on the practice squad last season. Howard Jones from Division II Shepherd University (ahem, my alma mater) was a football magnet in the 2014 preseason on both special teams and in defensive football. Jones is freakishly athletic, and his major hold up was his inability to grasp the concepts of an NFL 3-4 defense like the one the Steelers' deploy. With a year under his belt, and obviously more comfortable, Jones might surprise people come training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA this summer.