Steelers DE Brian Arnfelt Hoping Hard Work Will Pay Off

Pittsburgh Steelers second-year defensive end Brian Arnfelt is the only end on the roster other than Cameron Heyward to have taken even a single snap on defense for Dick LeBeau last year, and he merely doubled that with his two total plays on the line.

But that doesn’t mean he’s a shoe-in to make the roster this time around. After all, he was on the practice squad for most of the 2013 season before being called up late. The Steelers parted with Ziggy Hood, Al Woods, and Brett Keisel since then, but he’s still got plenty of competition to wade through before assuring himself of a roster spot.

Pittsburgh signed Cam Thomas in free agency, who projects to begin the year as the starting left defensive end—but only until their rookie second-round draft pick, Stephon Tuitt, is ready to start, which could very well come this season.

Aside from these two, the Steelers still have their seventh-round defensive end from a year ago, Nick Williams, as well as two new promising rookie undrafted free agents in Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer.

It would be foolish to say that those players don’t have a chance, considering that’s the position that Arnfelt found himself in a year ago. Just because he took a pair of snaps in a game last year doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s got a tremendous advantage.

And that’s all assuming that the Steelers don’t simply re-sign Keisel to serve as a rotational end along with Thomas or Tuitt, depending on who is starting.

It’s also interesting to note that, with Tuitt at left end and Thomas at nose tackle, when Heyward left practice with a minor injury yesterday, the coaches didn’t just move Arnfelt, the second-team right defensive end, up. Instead, they moved Thomas to right defensive end and inserted Hebron Fangupo at nose tackle.

But at the same time, it’s hard not to like Arnfelt’s chances. He came in with a solid understanding of the position, which many rookie 3-4 defensive ends do not, and he showed throughout his first training camp and the preseason that he could play with technical ability.

As a result, the Steelers wanted to see more and more of him, and that resulted in him playing more snaps on defense during the preseason for Pittsburgh than anybody but Woods, who was playing at two positions.

Heyward spoke positively about Arnfelt’s maturation through the course of the season earlier this year before the draft, and about how impressed he was with his work ethic and his progress:

Brian has put in a lot of work this offseason. He’s been here almost every day with me working out. He’s definitely come a long way. I thought him being around, not even playing that much but being around guys like Brett Keisel and Ziggy (Hood), he got to learn a lot.

Every day through practice you saw Brian get better. You could see at the end of practices towards the end of the year, he was really starting to strive and make a lot of progress. Going against our offense and our offensive line, it’s only going to make you better.

He followed that up just recently, telling Chris Bradford of Times Online that the two have put in a lot of work together throughout the offseason. Heyward called Arnfelt “a student of the game”, saying that “he wants to learn a lot. Never satisfied in what’s he doing. He wants to try for more”.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell also recently praised the second-year defensive end’s mind for the game, calling him a “smart guy” and saying that “he knows what to do” and “doesn’t make mental mistakes”. He followed that up by adding that “we are not going to throw a guy in there and say he’ll make mistakes and we’ll live with it”. You have to figure that that gives a guy like Arnfelt an advantage.

Mitchell also spoke about Arnfelt’s ability to run well, which is of primary concern for the defensive line coach, because his defensive line must have strong lateral mobility to control the line of scrimmage. He added that “he wasn’t as strong as we’d like him to be” a year ago , but that “he paid the price this offseason”.

Will that be enough to afford him admission to the 53-man roster and a spot in the defensive line rotation this year? Or will one of the other young defensive ends slip by him? Either way, Arnfelt is not taking this roster battle lightly, as he told Bradford. “Every day I wake up and I look at it as I’m starting at square one”, he said. “Just have to put the work in. If you play well enough, good things will come”.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • steeltown

    I’ll be watching Arnfelt, and the rest of the DLine a lot this preseason. I think Arnfelt has a leg up on the others, N.Williams, Mauro and Hemer and I REALLY like his approach, attitude and his hustle.

  • James Kling

    Arnfelt has excellent size and speed, and a year under his belt doesn’t hurt, either. Really curious to see what he brings this preseason. Every bit as athletic as Ziggy, but longer frame. Could be a Keisel type, someone who takes some time to develop.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Love Arnfelt. He showed last preseason, making a couple of plays that required strength, speed and incredible desire. I am really rooting for him as if he works out well, there is potential to have 5 or 6 solid D linemen for several years. The basis for their great defenses of the future.


    I hate to say it cuz he is one of my favorite Steelers, but I think these young guys are reducing the chances of Keisel coming back even as a situational player.
    I think that’s good for the team, but it’s always tough to see these SB vets leave and part of me wants to see Keisel come back for just one more year in a rotational role.
    Given Tuitt’s ascendance, I don’t see that happening, so these young kids are giving us a good news/bad news situation insofar as Keisel goes.
    Does anybody out there think they may bring Keisel back? I haven’t seen one of those “Steelers may bring Keisel back” articles in a couple weeks, and not even a word of James Harrison doing the same.

  • Steelers12328882

    No, unless there’s an injury to either Heyward, Thomas or Tuitt.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Arnfelt was my pick to be the surprise player of 2014. I didn’t foresee Tuitt falling to the Steelers in the 2nd, though, so Brian will have to be content with a backup position.

  • Zach

    keisel was a great player for us indeed (as was James Harrison) but it’s time to move on. We are not 1-2 players away from being dominant (and even then Keisel and Harrison are not dominant anymore), so the best is to let the young players develop rather than bringing the vets back.

  • Matt Manzo

    That’s what I’m hoping for; that we take the time to develop him. Unless he doesn’t show any better than Mauro or Hemer, I’d like to see him in this system for a few more years.

  • cencalsteeler

    That work ethic is what pays dividends in the long run. The staff is not blind to the hours he has put in behind the scenes. That, is what we were all hoping for Adams. Was he at the facility in the offseason training like Brian? If the answer is no, I doubt he has the desire to become an elite player and is fine with mediocrity. Arnfelt, is cut from the cloth that the Steelers desire.