Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have seen several undrafted free agent players make their final 53 man roster. Just last year, linebacker Terence Garvin beat the long odds and wound being a solid special teams player.
This year, the Steelers once again have a roster full of young undrafted players hoping to accomplish what Garvin did. Here is a look at two of those players that are certainly worth paying close attention to during training camp practices and preseason games.
OLB Howard Jones – Jones, a 2013 finalist for Division II defensive player of the year, ended his Shepherd career with 34 sacks, 71 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and four blocked kicks as an undersized defensive end. At the 2014 NFL combine, Jones showed off his athleticism as he put up the third-best 40 time (4.60) among defensive linemen, had the best vertical jump (40.5 inches) and was second in the broad jump (124 inches). Signed by the Steelers as a priority undrafted free agent, Jones is now going through the process of converting to the 3-4 outside linebacker position and his head is surely spinning. While he should get some extensive playing time late in preseason games, Jones’ best shot at making the Steelers final 53 man roster this year will include him excelling on special teams during the preseason while he continues to work on getting bigger and learning his new position. One thing that plays in Jones’ favor is the fact that the Steelers aren’t overly deep at the outside linebacker position. At worst, he has a better than average chance at making the Steelers practice squad this year should he not make the final cut out of training camp.
DE Josh Mauro – While at Stanford, Mauro had to wait quite a while to contribute on a full-time basis. He finally got the opportunity last season and went on to record 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles. Leading up to the draft, Mauro was described by more than one draftnik as being a young Brett Keisel. A factor that should speed along his development at the NFL level is the fact that he spent the last several years in a pro-style 3-4 defense while at Stanford. Still, the Steelers now like their defensive ends to be a bit bulkier than they once did, so Mauro could stand to put on several pounds in addition to getting stronger. One factor that is working against Mauro this year as it relates to him making the final 53 man roster out of training camp is the fact that the Steelers already have a few young developmental defensive ends on their roster in the form of Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt. The team also drafted future starter Stephon Tuitt in the second round back in May and added veteran defensive lineman Cam Thomas during the offseason. It’s not like Mauro can go the route of being a key special teams contributor as a defensive lineman, so his path to the final 53 will be much tougher than the one the aforementioned Jones will attempt to travel. On top of that, depending on how the final numbers work out, Mauro might have to beat out either Arnfelt or Williams for a practice squad spot as the Steelers aren’t likely to carry two defensive ends on that eight man unit.