By Matthew Marczi
With the move Tuesday to call up rookie undrafted free agent linebacker Terence Garvin from the practice squad after placing tight end Matt Spaeth on short-term IR, the young man has officially made me a liar.
Well, not exactly, but his inclusion onto the roster negates one observation that I made after analyzing the roster’s finals cut, which was that—at the time—no rookie undrafted free agents had made the roster. The Pittsburgh Steelers frequently end up with at least one; last year, in fact, they had three in punter Drew Butler, outside linebacker Adrian Robinson, and defensive back Robert Golden.
The move to call up Garvin over the other members of the practice squad makes sense, because he is the most likely to be able to contribute positively on special teams. Substituting an offensive player for a defensive player on the roster also evens out the numbers with 25 each.
Inside linebacker was the deepest unit on the team, and Garvin was the only ILB retained on the practice squad. Additionally, he flashed his versatility by also playing outside linebacker in the last two preseason games. Thus, a number of things played into his favor as being the player to be called up following the roster move.
Garvin, in fact, was at an even greater disadvantage than most players who come out of the draft without a team. Unlike Alan Baxter, Nik Embernate, and others, the Steelers did not immediately sign him after the draft. Instead, he received a mini camp invite to be given the chance to work out for and impress the coaches.
He ended up doing that and more, and the team signed him to the offseason roster following the tryout, releasing Ivory Wade and Anthony Rashad White to make room (while also signing Guy Whimper). Garvin was just one of eight players brought in for the tryout, but he was the only one signed.
And now he’s come a long way since then, all the way to making the active roster and likely playing special teams duty in games. The former West Virginia University linebacker and safety has beaten out many odds to make it this far, and now it is up to him what he is able to do with the opportunity.
After adding Garvin, the Steelers had an inside linebacker battle brewing amongst six reserves: Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Brian Rolle, Kion Wilson, rookie draft pick Vince Williams, and himself, all the way at the bottom of the pecking order.
Now, perhaps, it was the three most unlikely players of that group who ultimately survived. Sylvester and McFadden seemed to have the best odds due to their experience in the system, and were running second-team throughout the offseason. Rolle had the most veteran experience, starting 13 games as a rookie for the Philadelphia Eagles. Yet the spots went to Wilson, Williams—a compensatory sixth-round draft pick—and now, Garvin.
Unheralded WVU tryouts have come in and made an impact with the Steelers before; just last year, fullback Will Johnson was picked up after the university’s pro day. He went undrafted in 2011 and never caught on with a team, so 2012 was his first year, yet he was not exactly a rookie.
Johnson went on to become the team’s starting fullback and is already establishing himself as a core member of the offense, with his role in the passing game expected to be expanded in his second season.
Of course, it would take a number of injuries to get Garvin in the starting lineup to make even close to the impact that Johnson has been able to have, but he should get his chances to impress the coaches on special teams.