5 Players Who Might Find Themselves on the Steelers' Practice Squad in 2014
An NFL practice squad is an odd construct. The broad strokes of it are as follows:
- Not just any player can be on a practice squad
- A player only has a limited tenure to be on a practice squad
- There can be up to eight players on a practice squad
- Practice-squad players can practice (duh), they but cannot play in games, unless they are promoted to the active roster.
- A team can’t sign another team’s practice-squad players, unless it is signing them to its active roster.
The philosophy behind the practice squad is to stash away some talented youngsters whom a team thinks could either help it during the season this season if there is an injury or need down the road.
Looking specifically at the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are a multitude of names currently on the roster who would make excellent candidates to hide away on the practice squad. Let’s take a closer look at several bubble guys for which training camp will be vital for their futures.
Keep this in mind when reading this list, however. Some young players are omitted because I am confident they will make the team. Players such as Vanderbilt tackle Wesley Johnson and Stanford defensive end Josh Mauro are among those who aren’t good candidates for the practice squad, because this team needs them on its active roster now.
Eric Waters, TE
Rookie tight end Eric Waters is in a similar situation as Daniel McCullers. He has gobs of potential and physical gifts, but he could lose out to a numbers game.
Waters was never able to fully realize his physical potential while at Missouri, leading him to be an undrafted free agent. Waters is a prime candidate to stash away for a year, while he works on his route running and improves his consistency.
There’s no doubt Waters would be a break in the monotony that is a Steelers tight end. Waters can run like a wide receiver and jump through the roof. If they can teach him to play some real football, he’ll be a dangerous weapon.
Another reason Waters would make an excellent practice-squad addition is that he could work against the Steelers defense as the other team’s big wide receiver. Pittsburgh has a daunting task ahead of them in terms of the wide receivers they will face. Waters, on the scout team, would offer the big athlete many of these wide receivers and tight ends are whom the Steelers will be facing.
Daniel McCullers, DT
If you are a team that wants to make a big move in the draft, why not do it by drafting the biggest prospect? That’s what the Steelers did when they selected Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel McCullers in the sixth round in 2014. The 6’7”, 352-pound mass of humanity just oozes potential.
Unfortunately, the reason a player with his measurables ended up in the sixth round is that his game needs a lot of work. A key area as it pertains to the Steelers is where to play him. One would assume, with his bulk, he’s a nose tackle in a Dick LeBeau-coached 3-4. However, McCullers' height makes that problematic.
Most fans assume McCullers will make the final roster. This might be the case, but it might be prudent to give him a year on the practice squad to work on his pad level. If Pittsburgh keeps six defensive linemen, can McCullers sneak in? Possibly.
If we assume that Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas and Stephon Tuitt make it, there are about five guys for two spots. And some of those players, such as Josh Mauro, are far more game-ready, and a player such as Nicholas Williams has a year in the system.
Justin Brown, WR
The Steelers have a talented and exciting group of wide receivers to pick from this season. One of those is second-year wide receiver Justin Brown. Brown spent 2013 on the practice squad while he honed his game. This might mean that it’s Brown’s time to shine on the regular roster this year.
However, if Brown makes the final roster, it would mean a player such as Derek Moye or Darrius Heyward-Bey is released. Putting Brown back on the practice squad means at least one of these players could make the team, and Brown is still available if needed.
Looking at the roster, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant are locks. That leaves two spots. Brown would certainly fit, but Moye and Heyward-Bey would keep him in the mix as well. The fact is the fourth or fifth wide receiver on this team won't see many targets, so why not hold on to Brown as long as possible?
Will Simmons, OG
Pittsburgh needs to imagine it's on an episode of Hoarders and store as many offensive linemen away as it possibly can. Injuries absolutely hammered this unit in 2013. Even the second half of the season, when the team rallied for a 6-2 record, the offensive line was in shambles.
Pittsburgh is likely to carry eight offensive linemen on the active roster. If we assume the starters are locked in, that means swing linemen Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper are the top two reserves. That means one spot is up for grabs, and multiple players are trying to lock it down.
It will ultimately come down to the incumbent underachiever Mike Adams and the talented rookie Wesley Johnson. Should Adams win out, Johnson is a lock for the practice squad where he’d go with East Carolina guard Will Simmons.
Both are more talented than Adams and would provide exceptional depth and a bright future down the road. Simmons is a great candidate to eventually replace guard Ramon Foster, so I hate to see them let him go too soon.
Jordan Zumwalt, LB
When UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt was taken in the sixth round, it was a real head-scratcher. Zumwalt brought nothing in terms of skills that this team didn’t already have. In fact, with the current roster logjam at linebacker, the pick was something of a throwaway.
However, there’s a chance that if Zumwalt can show enough potential during training camp to warrant it, he could find himself on the practice squad. This would primarily be for insurance in case linebacker Sean Spence can’t go or there’s an injury.
That’s not to say Zumwalt couldn’t make the final roster, but it would be a miracle. And it would likely signal that Vince Williams’ time in Pittsburgh has drawn to a close. It's hard to imagine that Williams, with a year in the system, would lose out to Zumwalt, but stranger things have happened.