8 Players Who Might Find Themselves on Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Practice Squad
For the Pittsburgh Steelers to get back to the playoffs, the role of the practice squad can't be underestimated.
NFL teams are allowed to keep eight players on their practice squad. These are often the last players cut, and they're a heartbeat away from a spot on the 53-man roster.
These players are used to simulate opponents during practice. As of 2012, the minimum weekly salary for their grunt work was $5,700, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Players are eligible for the practice squad for no more than three seasons, so these units are made up of young hopefuls.
James Harrison once was a practice squad player who aspired to wear a uniform on Sundays. So perhaps the next Harrison is among these Steelers practice squad candidates.
Unless otherwise noted, heights and weights are provided by NFL Draft Scout.
Brian Arnfelt, DE
Brian Arnfelt benched 38 reps at Northwestern's pro day, according to Sippin' on Purple. That would have put him in a three-way tie for first among all the players at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com.
The Steelers signed the 6'5", 302-pounder as an undrafted free agent. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), said Arnfelt worked as the Steelers' second-team left defensive end throughout the spring.
The Steelers have used two first-round picks on underwhelming defensive ends, taking Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011.
If Hood and Heyward don't improve and Brett Keisel all of a sudden looks like the 35-year-old he'll be in 2013, defensive end could turn into a weakness for the Steelers.
It's a position that needs to be represented on the practice squad.
Alan Baxter, OLB
A team never can have too many players who can get to the quarterback.
An undrafted free agent, Alan Baxter led Northern Illinois with 9.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2012 and was named first-team All-MAC.
Baxter also made 12.5 tackles for loss in 2011.
The 6'0", 240-pound Baxter played defensive end in college and will have to convert to outside linebacker in the NFL. He'll likely have to beat out Chris Carter or Adrian Robinson for a spot on the 53-man roster.
In the meantime, he can be the pass-rushing presence on the Steelers practice squad.
Justin Brown, WR
The Steelers caught lightning in a bottle in the 2010 draft with third-rounder Emmanuel Sanders and sixth-rounder Antonio Brown.
Both made an impact as rookies, and in 2013, they're projected to be the Steelers' top two receivers.
That's not likely to happen this year, at least not right away.
Markus Wheaton, the Steelers' third-round pick in April, figures to have a spot on the 53-man roster.
Justin Brown, the sixth-rounder from Oklahoma, probably will have to start out on the practice squad.
Brown had a breakout year in 2012 after transferring from Penn State. With the Steelers' fourth-round pick Landry Jones throwing to him, he caught 73 passes for 879 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown.
In three years at Penn State, Brown caught 73 passes combined.
Assuming Antonio Brown, Sanders and Wheaton are the Steelers' top three receivers, Jerricho Cotchery has the inside track on the No. 4 spot.
Justin Brown, second-year man David Gilreath and undrafted J.D. Woods will be among those challenging Plaxico Burress for the fifth receiver spot.
Then there's Reggie Dunn, who could make the team as a return specialist.
The Steelers will want to keep the the 6'3" Justin Brown around because Ben Roethlisberger loves those tall receivers.
Justin Cheadle, OG
The Kansas City Chiefs signed Justin Cheadle as an undrafted free agent out of California in 2012. He was cut in training camp and spent time on the Green Bay Packers practice squad, according to KFFL.com.
The Steelers then signed Cheadle to a futures contract in January.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) noted Cheadle's athleticism during minicamp.
John Malecki, who debuted in the 2012 season finale, and undrafted rookies Nik Embernate and Mike Golic Jr., are among the hurdles that stand between Cheadle and the 53-man roster.
The 6'2", 290-pound Cheadle should do no worse than the practice squad, where the depth-starved Steelers are likely to stash a couple of offensive linemen.
Mike Golic Jr., G-C
The Steelers need a dependable backup center behind Maurkice Pouncey. Doug Legursky was that guy until he signed with the Buffalo Bills.
Mike Golic Jr. could fill that void.
Golic, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Mike Golic, was named one of the top undrafted players of 2013 by National Football Post.
The 6'5", 300-pounder started 13 games at guard for Notre Dame in 2012, but he also played some center in college, according to UND.com.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider said that Golic even played some right tackle at Steelers minicamp.
Golic eventually could follow in his father's footsteps, just on the other side of the ball.
To make the 53-man roster, he'll likely have to beat out undrafted rookie Nik Embernate, John Malecki (one career game) or veteran Guy Whimper.
If he doesn't, the Steelers can find room on the practice squad for an offensive lineman who plays multiple positions.
Terry Hawthorne, CB
Terry Hawthorne will be the Steelers' highest 2013 draft pick settling for the practice squad.
The Steelers chose Hawthorne in the fifth round after he intercepted six passes, returning two for touchdowns, in four years at Illinois.
Hawthorne was an All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2010 and 2011.
Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, who played both cornerback and safety for the Steelers in the 1990s, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he'd like to clean up Hawthorne's technique.
Also setting Hawthorne back is a knee injury that forced him to miss most of the Steelers' spring practices, according to Steel City Insider.
Nigel Malone, CB
Steelers cornerbacks have caught just eight interceptions over the past two seasons.
So even though Nigel Malone is just 5'10" and 184 pounds, the Steelers need to give a serious look to a guy who has had 12 interceptions over the past two seasons.
Malone led the Big 12 with seven interceptions for Kansas State in 2011, returning one for a touchdown. He also broke up 15 passes, according to Sports-Reference.com, and was named first-team All-Big 12 and second-team Walter Camp All-America.
Malone was then signed by the Steelers, according to NFL.com, and again might have to go through the ordeal of being cut before landing on the practice squad.
Peter Tuitupou, TE
Matt Spaeth, who the Steelers brought back after two seasons in Chicago, hasn't caught more than 17 passes in a season. David Paulson caught just seven passes as a rookie last season.
The Steelers didn't draft any tight ends, but they signed Peter Tuitupou as a free agent on June 3.
Tuitupou caught just nine passes at San Jose State in 2012. But if he shows any upside at all during training camp, he could make the practice squad because of the Steelers' uncertainty at tight end.