The Pittsburgh Steelers signed undrafted rookie free agent Chris Elkins following the draft after they watched him handle former Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a first-rounder this year, at Heinz Field a year ago.
The “Chicken Nugget” has a reputation of being a technician, which helps excuse his less than ideal height (he is closer to 6’2” than his listed 6’4”) and shorter than average arms. And so far, that’s been enough to handle most of his competition during training camp, including defensive end Cameron Heyward.
He may never have even gotten the opportunity to go up against Heyward and turn some eyes upon him were it not for the injury to reserve center/guard David Snow, whose foot fracture essentially eliminates him from the offensive line competition.
With Snow off to the sidelines, Elkins slowly worked his way into the rotation and began receiving more reps at guard.
And beginning with the Friday night practice under the lights, the coaching staff began giving the undrafted rookie some time at center, which is a theme that has continued over the last few practices as well.
When it comes to undrafted free agent linemen on a relatively stable offensive line, it’s always a good sign when the coaching staff tries to stretch you out.
It means that they like what you’re showing them, and that they want to see what else you can do. Elkins is currently listed as the third-team center behind Cody Wallace on the first official depth chart released yesterday.
The other linemen have taken notice too. On his first day of training camp after his bereavement leave, starting guard Ramon Foster was asked about who he’s heard has been doing well so far, and he said that he’s been hearing good things about “Chicken Nugget”.
The Youngstown State alum has at least gotten the first step out of the way. He’s gotten noticed—noticed enough to get a nickname. But it’s up to him to make something of that attention, which means sustained success both in camp and in the preseason.
It’s not as if it’s been all uphill since the start of training camp, of course. Even while he managed to stalemate Heyward for multiple reps, the raw power and sheer size of rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers proved to be too much for the undersized interior lineman.
As Alex Kozora wrote, Elkins got thrown around a bit by McCullers once again while serving as the third-team center yesterday. Reserve nose tackle Al Lapuaho also had his way with the Nugget.
For his sake, he’d better hope that it was a bad day, and that he’ll quickly rebound, rather than it being a case of the defense learning and adjusting to his sound technique. Otherwise we may soon see Wesley Johnson’s name listed at three different spots on the third-team offensive line.