Friday, August 11 marked the beginning of the competitive portion of the 2017 schedule for the Steelers, as they took the field for their first pre-season game. Particularly due to injuries, several players who would normally be well down the depth chart had considerable playing time against the Giants. For some, it helped their case for a spot on the final 53-man roster. For others, it put the behind the eight-ball. And, for one wide receiver, it pushed him out the back door.
In: Running back Terrell Watson
You would be forgiven to think the hill Watson stared up as training camp commenced had to have looked about like Everest and K2 stacked on top of one another. He wasn’t even on the team for rookie minicamp; he was signed to fill the hole created by the release of tight end Ladarius Green. Then, he found himself buried behind Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis, among others.
Thanks to Bell’s training-camp holdout, and Conner’s shoulder injury, Watson found himself in an unfamiliar position Friday night: in uniform and between the sidelines of an NFL field.
He didn’t disappoint.
When it was all said and done, Watson wasn’t the Steelers’ leading rusher; he was the game’s leading rusher, with 44 yards on 10 carries. Watson is a big guym at 6’-1” and 240 pounds, and he runs a lot like another former big back in Pittsburgh: Jerome Bettis. Both are one-cut runners with shiftiness that belies their stature. He certainly evoked memories of The Bus on his 15-yard touchdown run.
Out: Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint
It’s not that Toussaint had a bad showing. In fact, he had a nice, 11-yard run on which he showed new speed and agility he hadn’t so far as a Steeler.
The problem is that he didn’t stand out. For a guy who is entering his third season on the team, you begin to expect improvement. Aside from a little more burst, though, he seems to have plateaued. When there is an exciting, young guy like Watson coming up through the ranks, that doesn’t look good.
In: Cornerback Mike Hilton
It’s hard to say something new about Hilton at this point. That’s because he’s sort of the talk of training camp in Pittsburgh. He’s 5’-9” and just 184 pounds. He was signed to a futures contract after the Steelers’ season ended, about a month after he was signed to the team’s practice squad. He was everything that screamed “camp body”. Then, he simply went to camp and stole the show.
Considering the presence of rookies T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, it’s hard to imagine an undrafted free agent being the talk of training camp, but here we are. He’s looked like a veteran in most practices, and then he went out to the field Friday night and got four tackles, one sack and a fumble recover that he probably, indirectly, forced. As a special teams gunner, he was usually the first guy down the field.
Out: Cornerback Senquez Golson
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Golson didn’t play due to injury.
For someone who has missed his first two pro seasons, the last thing Golson needed was another pre-season injury. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he got, and now he’s forced to watch the likes of Hilton and Coty Sensabaugh push him down — and maybe off — the roster. It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the former second-round pick, and maybe he’s just the most unlucky person in the NFL. But, no matter how you slice it, he’s in dire straits right now.
In: Wide Receiver Cobi Hamilton
All Hamilton did Friday night was make plays. He was on the receiving end of both of rookie quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ longest receptions, including one for a touchdown. The other thing he did, though, was show up big on special teams, forcing a fair catch and later making the tackle on the two punts on which he played.
At 6’-2” and 212 pounds, Hamilton gives the Steelers another big target. If his hands continue to look the way they did on his leaping, 44-yard grab, in particular, he’s likely to make the roster.
Out: Wide Receiver Canaan Severin
And I mean way out. As in, out the door.
Following a game in which the young receiver made some very nice plays, but canceled them out with some significantly bad (and poorly timed) drops, Severin was released from the team. Now, it seems it’s possible that head coach Mike Tomlin saw Severin as the least likely of the other big receivers on the roster to make the team, and wanted to give the young man time to latch on elsewhere. They have, after all, six other receivers who are at least 6’-0”. It’s also possible that Severin’s release was necessitated by the signing of linebacker Austin Gearing, who was added for depth because of a significant number of injuries to the team’s linebacker corps.
What we know for sure, though, is Tomlin felt Severin was expendable. Sometimes, dropping an uncontested ball that hits you in the hands will do that.