The Pittsburgh Steelers signed a number of free agents this season to help replenish their roster, adding some significant pieces such as Mike Mitchell, Cam Thomas, and LeGarrette Blount. Among the more unheralded signings was former Houston Texans nickel back Brice McCain, whom many believed would struggle to make the roster.
I include myself among those who initially left the veteran off the initial projected roster until recently, and he did nothing to suggest that he doesn’t belong with his play, both on defense and special teams, against the New York Giants on Saturday.
And what better way to make that point than to be in on the tackle during the opening kickoff of the game? In fact, he was the man to bring the returner to the ground, even if Howard Jones seemed to have gotten most of the credit for the play. The two defenders nearly simultaneously got to Quintin Demps, but it was McCain who should be credited with the primary tackle.
Sticking with special teams, McCain was working with Shamarko Thomas as vice jammers toward the near side of the field just a minute later. McCain was able to shadow the gunner out of bounds, but Thomas failed to stay with him and allowed the gunner to get past him inbounds and force Dri Archer into calling for a fair catch.
Early in the second quarter, on another Giants punt, McCain was operating as a lone jammer on the near sideline. Thomas cut up from center field to slow the progress of the gunner, and McCain was able to race downfield and get in front of him, blocking him out of the play.
He would have been the first man down the field otherwise, and likely would have forced Archer into another fair catch. This one he at least had an opportunity to return, thanks in large part to McCain, even if it only went for four yards.
Of course, McCain wasn’t brought in just to be a contributor on special teams, even if that is where he will spend the bulk of his time with the Steelers this year, assuming the defense is able to stay healthy.
He was brought in to compete for, at a minimum, the fourth cornerback spot, with Antwon Blake and rookie Shaquille Richardson, as well as Isaiah Green and Devin Smith, the other notable contenders in that battle.
While he did spend a reasonable amount of time on defense, playing as the nickel corner with Blake and Green on the outside with the second-team defense, he was only targeted twice, with McCain able to get in front of this third-down pass without drawing a flag, which was a rarity on the night.
While he may have been a bit fortunate on an underthrown ball that forced the receiver to come back for it, replays show that he clearly didn’t interfere on the play. In all, it was a fine showing for the free agent pickup, particularly on special teams.