By Matthew Marczi
Last week, the Steelers were forced to play without two starting defensive linemen, as both defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Steve McLendon were forced to sit out the game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That thrust both Ziggy Hood and Al Woods into the starting lineup at defensive end and nose tackle, respectively. The only remaining reserve was Hebron Fangupo, a player that is a pure nose tackle.
That is before the Steelers elected to promote defensive end Brian Arnfelt from the practice squad.
Arnfelt, a rookie undrafted free agent, was not only on an active roster for the first time in his career, but he also logged the first two snaps in the regular season after being used heavily in the preseason.
But his promotion was merely the product of a pair of injuries along the starting defensive line. With both Keisel and McLendon seemingly on track to return to play, if not the starting lineup, when the Steelers travel to play the Green Bay Packers, might Arnfelt find himself released toward the end of the week?
The Steelers carried seven defensive linemen for large stretches of last season in order to retain Alameda Ta’amu, but that was admittedly a redshirt year. This season, they already have Fangupo redshirting behind McLendon and Woods. Arnfelt would just be more dead weight on the roster.
Whether or not the Steelers release Arnfelt (and, in all likelihood, subsequently re-sign him to the practice squad) when and if the defensive line is back to full health, I believe, will be a good indication about how the organization feels about the young Northwestern product and his future with the team.
In contrast, the Steelers seemed to hold both Arnfelt and outside linebacker Alan Baxter in high regard as young undrafted defensive free agents, as both were initially retained on the practice squad.
However, the latter was eventually released back in mid-October in order to re-sign inside linebacker Kion Wilson to the practice squad. Pittsburgh has had ample opportunity to eventually re-sign Baxter since then, including after placing LaMarr Woodley on injured reserve yesterday, but instead they signed Jamaal Westerman.
If the Steelers retain him on the active roster through the remainder of the season, that will certainly suggests they have him penciled into their future, as they have three defensive ends hitting free agency next year. Keeping him on the roster at the end of the season gives the Steelers protection to maintain his services. Practice squad players are free agents and can sign with anybody.