By Jeremy Hritz
Last year, DeMarcus Van Dyke joined the Pittsburgh Steelers after being cut by the Oakland Raiders. Van Dyke was drafted by the Raiders in 2011, mostly as a result of his phenomenal forty yard dash time, which clocked in at 4.28, a time that was tops in his draft class. In his brief time with the Raiders, he earned playing time in 14 games and started four, recording one interception and one fumble recovery on special teams, but the downtrodden organization felt that his play contributed to an awful pass defense that surrendered 251 passing yards per game. Surprisingly, the team believed that Van Dyke didn’t have the ability to improve his game and become a better player in their system, and hastily, they cut him.
And for the Steelers, they are hoping that what was the Raiders trash is their treasure.
Last season, when asked about the signing of Van Dyke, Mike Tomlin said that the Steelers had their eye on him in the player evaluation process and that “he’s got big time upside, he’s an extremely fast guy.” He continued by saying that Van Dyke would be a project that the Steelers would develop to see “if maybe he can help us at some point.”
It would be fortuitous if Van Dyke could help this year.
Upon joining the Steelers last season, Van Dyke dressed for nine games, primarily getting work on special teams, and early on, after his downing of a punt on the one yard line in the season opener against the Denver Broncos, there was optimism that he could be a solid contributor. However, as the season progressed, Van Dyke became a repeat offender for penalties, especially holding on return units, drawing the ire of Tomlin who threatened to bench him if his error-prone play continued. Unfortunately it did.
Despite his gaffes, Van Dyke potential cannot be ignored.
The Steelers are hoping that he can become more consistent in 2013 and be a reliable contributor on special teams, and possibly, provide for quality depth at the cornerback position in the event of an injury. And there is no reason why that isn’t a realistic possibility, being that Van Dyke did not have the opportunity to work through the offseason program with the team.
Heading into the new season, Van Dyke, who was reported to begin working with Ike Taylor and training-guru, Tom Shaw, will have the opportunity to fully adapt to the terminology and schemes of the defense and special teams. If his speed can be harnessed productively and effectively by the coaching staff, he could make a case for himself in 2013.
But Van Dyke will not be without competition, and if he is to make the roster, he will have to have an outstanding training camp. As Dave Bryan pointed out back in May, Van Dyke is facing a “make-or-break” training camp and that “with the Steelers brining back William Gay during the offseason, and the drafting of Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne… [these moves may] hamper his chances at making the 53 man roster this year out of training camp.”
Van Dyke’s progress will be a mini-story line worth following in Latrobe in a couple of weeks.