Wexell: Demarcus Ayers Could Get The Call Up From Practice Squad


Several beat writers have commented over recent weeks about the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey does not exactly look as though he is a player who is going to be taking the field again any time soon. The coaching staff seems to be very aware of this, according to Jim Wexell.

Writing for Steel City Insider, Wexell talked to rookie seventh-round draft pick Demarcus Ayers, who has spent the entire season on the practice squad. You might have noticed that veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown has been given a couple of days off recently. It has been Ayers mopping up those valuable practice reps with the first-team offense—in a possible preparation to be called up to the 53-man roster.

Ayers told Wexell that Todd Haley and the coaches “want me to stay tuned to the game plan”, which is generally not what a player on the practice squad is doing. “Coach Haley has been really pressing me all week about learning the X spot, so the arrow is still going up”.

He also said that Ben Roethlisberger was happy about a deep pass that he was able to run under for a reception in practice. The Steelers have been lacking that vertical passing game without Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates functioning in the lineup, though that is not exactly his scouting report.

“I head Coach Haley say a couple times ‘Keep DA in because he’s giving effort’”, Ayers told the reporter. “Things like that let me know I’m progressing and make me want to go harder for my teammates”. He also added, “When my number’s called I’ll be ready. These guys can trust me, too”.


For a large portion of the season, the Steelers have been operating more or less with just three wide receivers, with Brown obviously receiving most of the attention. Following Markus Wheaton’s move to the injured reserve list and Heyward-Bey’s injury, as well as Coates’, they have been significantly undermanned.

Completing the trio of healthy wide receivers is Eli Rogers, a second-year former undrafted free agent who spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve before even reaching the preseason, and Cobi Hamilton, who was a late addition to the training camp roster and started the year on the practice squad.

Should Ayers get the call-up, he would be the second wide receiver that the Steelers have promoted from the practice squad, but if they do so, it is unclear what move they will make. Is Heyward-Bey’s injury significant enough to warrant ending his season by putting him on injured reserve? He is an integral cog on special teams when healthy.

It was thought that Ayers was competing with Rogers for the final wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster, so it is unclear, if both are activated, exactly what Ayers’ role would be, other than depth, but using him in the split end position would suggest that is not the case. It will be interesting to see if a move is made before the end of the week.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • falconsaftey43

    Good for Demarcus. Always like to hear about practice squad guys getting a shot.

  • WreckIess

    We’ll finally get the answer to the age old question that is “how many return men can we have on the roster before we actually let one return a kick?” The answer is 2 right now, but I have a strong feeling it’ll be 3 if we activate Ayers.

  • dany

    So receivers #2-4 are gonna be practive squaders? Geez…

  • Daniel

    Like hearing he will be giving his all

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    If Demarcus is activated;most like means DHB heading to IR. While I am happy for the opportunity that would give Demarcus; concerned about the impact on special teams play as DHB is a big contributor there.

  • Petherson Silveira

    If Shabbaz is still on the roster, he is the odd man out, IMHO.

  • Petherson Silveira

    Earning*. 😉

  • Ray

    He’s been dressing though so I wouldn’t expect him to be cut. Richardson would be cut before Shabbaz

  • steelburg

    Generally I do to just not under these kind of circumstances.

  • budabar

    If AB gets hurt we have nothing but speacal team WR maybe we should take a look at vets that may be available

  • Jacob

    I think Ayers could be a serviceable receiver in this league. I have liked what I have seen from him so far.

  • Rocksolid20

    Great , just what we need another 4ft tall football player
    We have cornered the market on little guys

  • falconsaftey43

    There is no one out there.

  • Kevin artis

    Andre Johnson…..Chad Johnson…Terrell Owens…..jk.

  • PapaJuju

    Yeah? We have three. Nevermind we have Coates and Bryant when he comes back. Heyward Bey isn’t exactly short.

  • Spencer Krick

    He’d be another slot guy and maybe another KR or PR option yes? Think he could line up outside?

  • Rocksolid20

    How many kick returners do we need and you know AB is the
    punt returner

  • Spencer Krick

    More options don’t hurt i suppose. The fact that we’re pulling our 7th rounder off the PR speaks volumes of our WR core right now.

  • steeltown

    I could see Grimble waived to make room for Ayers. He’d easily make it back to the squad team.

  • Steelers12

    waive Grimble and bring him up, he can return kicks along with Justin Gilbert and could run some deep routes on occasion

  • Ryan Alderman

    Tells you how dire the WR situation really has become. I hope he performs as we definitely need it. L. Green and J. James can ease some of the pressure off, too.

  • Dorian James

    I’ve got to be the worst Steelers fan ever lol, I totally forgot about Demarcus Ayers. Good for him, I hope he takes advantage of his opportunity and does well

  • Matt Manzo

    I would kill to see Ayers and Gilbert back there, over Coates and Fitz!

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m excited about the possibility! He could be that extra spark that’s been missing from the WRs!.
    I don’t think that DHB needs to be IR’d in order for him to come up. Shabazz, Grimble or Richardson could make room.
    Though, if DHB was put on IR, I’d look for WR depth in a FA. Some competition for Ayers. There’s gotta be someone with experience out there?

  • Sam Clonch

    Santonio Holmes is still looking for work.

  • Sam Clonch

    Don’t forget about Santonio Holmes.

  • Charles Mullins

    Eli Rodgers has really disappointed this season.

  • John Mazza

    lol sounds a tad more dynamic

  • John Mazza

    Same. lol

  • John Mazza

    the guy wearing his old number smokes weed too

  • Charles Mullins

    Fitz had a good return recently.

  • Patrick Donovan

    Roddy white?

  • NimbusHex

    I did not expect Rogers, Hamilton, and Ayers to all be on the roster at any point this season.

  • stan

    I liked Ayers a lot in the pre-season and in the draft so I’m happy to see this. The only question I have is that he’s playing split end. His big limitation is straight line speed and he appeared to be almost a carbon copy of Eli Rogers.

  • Charles Mullins

    See my comment about Rogers disappointing.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Rogers was never on the practice squad, he spent his rookie year on IR and made the 53 out of training camp this year. Honestly, he may have been on the 53 last year too.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Shabazz has become a fixture on special teams, so I don’t think he would necessarily be the obvious target. There’s still Grimble, or Fort again, or IRing Heyward-Bey.
    Edit: and as Ray mentioned, Richardson would be an obvious candidate, actually, and perhaps the most likely.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, if this roster were actually healthy, they would have a nice mixture of the short-shifty guys and the tall, fast guys. Coates is actually the shortest between him, Bryant, and DHB.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Not really. He hasn’t been getting a lot of targets.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He’s not a burner, but he’s not limited in terms of speed. His bad numbers were a result of testing while injured. He also has some moves in the open field.

  • dany

    true, meant to say practice squad type which still seems like an insult to Rogers but I’ll stand by it due to the WR circumstances

  • Steelers12

    especially Fitz

  • Matt Manzo

    He’s not awful, just not exciting.

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m not sure who’s out there, but they all sound the same. Older guys who at one time were stars in the league. One of em should be a decent possession type!
    I’m not sure how the FO feels about Holmes being around Bell!

  • Kelly A

    Sammie Coates – 6’1 5/8
    Martavis Bryant – 6’4
    Codi Hamilton – 6’2
    Darrius Heyward-Bey – 6’2
    Canaan Severin (remember him?) – 6’2

    Not including : Jesse James – 6’7, Xavier Grimble – 6’5 , Ladarius Green – 6’5

    DeMarcus Ayers – 5’9
    Markus Wheaton – 5’11
    Antonio Brown – 5’10
    Eli Rogers – 5’10

    In summary, everything balances out nicely; not sure why the complaint.

  • Taylor Williams

    Why return a kick when you could just kneel in the endzone and start at the 25?

  • Taylor Williams

    Ben has forgotten he exists. He’ll do the same to Ayers.

  • Rocksolid20

    How many small guys have panned out
    for us . Get guys that can handle the riggers
    of an NFL season .

  • Matt Manzo

    That’s what I’m sayin. There’s too many guys on the team trying to get straight. And they’ve had the worst luck when it comes to weed!
    Can Justin Gilbert play WR?!

  • Matt Manzo

    The practice squad is hard to keep track of! I forgot he was there, too.

  • Brendon Glad

    They absolutely need to try something different. They have to get Sammie Coates off of the field.
    Many probably already know this, but DID YOU KNOW that in the last 6 games, Sammie Coates has ONE catch for 4 yards. On 14 targets.
    It truly makes a Steelers fan appreciate what AB is doing this year. Zero help from anyone not named LB as he runs his routes.
    The fact that Coates is playing with broken digits is admirable…but also annoying with regards to the coaching staff. His hands when fully operational, are not good at all. Bad, in fact.
    The Ethiopian National Marathon team probably veers away from runners who develop severe asthma, or congestive heart failure. The NFL Steelers probably should try unproven WR’s who do not have severe hand injuries…no? I’d trust Hines Ward with broken bones in his hands…and AB….not Sammie Coates, he hasn’t earned that level of respect…even though, as I said before, I admire his guts to try.
    But since I tend to post a lot of negatives this year (since this squad is one of my least favorite Steeler squads ever), I will say one positive….I loved the attitude they showed pounding the rock with LB last week. And the defense is starting to look a little better.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    He’s averaged 4 catches for 42 yards in the 8 games he has played. Rogers has been targeted on 13% of his offensive snaps, compare that to every other player with a target:
    L.Green: 26% (small sample size)
    AB: 17%
    Coates: 16%
    L.Bell: 14%
    Rogers: 13%
    D-Will: 11%
    Grimble: 10%
    Wheaton: 9%
    DHB: 7%
    Hamilton: 7%
    J.James: 7%
    D.Johnson: 4%
    F.Toussaint: 4%

    He is in the higher tier of target priority. He is doing well. His 8 game pace would give him a 670 yard season (Markus Wheaton territory) and his yards per target is 7.8, half a yard behind AB’s 8.3.

    He’s also been a really good run blocker in the slot.
    That is only disappointing if you had your expectations set way too high.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m glad you mentioned his blocking. He’s not excellent by any means, but he’s very willing, and has some ability as well. I believe Ayers is the same type of player in that respect.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    Yeah, he isn’t pulling a Wheaton out there. He’s good, just also small.

  • will

    “Riggers”???? What is a rigger?

  • Rocksolid20

    The stress and strains of the game

  • The Chin

    Rigors, riggers, chiggers. Who’s keeping track anyway?

  • Rocksolid20

    Or he could sit the bench with Justin Gilbert

  • Rocksolid20

    agree

  • Steelers12

    no need for that

  • nutty32

    Hate to put limits on guys, but the NFL is a cruel league. Small and slow is a bad combo. Andre Hastings, Troy Edwards type ceiling. Hines Ward was one in a million.

  • Kevin Reich

    There has to be someone better out there. If he’s out there this season is over.

  • Kevin Reich

    WR1
    1 Jerome Simpson
    2 Greg Jennings
    3 Marques Colston
    4 Griff Whalen
    5 Preston Parker
    6 Greg Little
    7 Kris Durham
    8 Rueben Randle
    9 Dwayne Bowe
    10 James Jones
    11 Rasheed Bailey
    12 Cayleb Jones
    13 Kyle Prater
    14 Josh Morgan
    15 Jacoby Ford
    16 Tyler Davis
    17 Hakeem Nicks
    WR2 1 Roddy White
    2 Brian Hartline
    3 Ace Sanders
    4 Riley Cooper
    5 Chris Givens
    6 Marcus Thigpen
    7 Devin Street
    8 Denarius Moore
    9 Ryan Whalen
    10 Joe Morgan

  • Dorian James

    And I just remembered we actually drafted this guy and I forgot him

  • Petherson Silveira

    If Deangelo return, could be Richardson. If Shamarko return, could be Shabazz. If neither return, should be Grimble or Fort, because we have depth at their position.

  • Kelly A

    That wasn’t the point you made. You noted that the Steelers had ” cornered the market on little guys”, yet I just showed you with their receiving corps, they have more players 6’1 and over than they do smaller receivers.

    In answering your question, how many small guys have panned out? Well if Antonio Brown isn’t a good enough example well I know what is. Frankly speaking size doesn’t necessarily determine whether a player can handle the ‘riggers’ of a season as you put it; rather the factor that Tomlin had stressed many times, that being conditioning. If anything, being taller/bigger exposes you to more hits; thus making you more vulnerable to injury; ask Rob Gronkowski. In all, if Demarcus gets called up, it’s likely the fact that he earned and deserves it despite his size.

  • Charles Mullins

    As a person with him on his fantasy team…. he has disappointed. Do you think the lack of targets might have something to do with being a healthy scratch or the team needing to be “more disciplined”. There is more to the story I am sure, but he has not fulfilled the hype he had coming into the season and I would call that a disappointment.

  • Charles Mullins

    Haley set them when he compared him to Wayne Chrebet. From the outside looking in Eli has been his own worst enemy.

  • Charles Mullins

    He was a healthy scratch and compared to Wayne Cherbet before the season. I would say that he has not lived up to the hype and is a disappointment. The lack of targets may have a lot to do with things he controls. He seems to be his own worst enemy this year.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He was never a healthy scratch.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Why in the world would you put Eli Rogers on your fantasy team? That’s your own fault, and likely the reason you think he’s been disappointing.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    Haley is still an idiot. Eli isn’t getting in his own way, he’s doing fine, esp. for a first year player.

  • Charles Mullins

    Benched against the patriots. Would have been better if he was scratched.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Honestly, it sounds like this is more about your fantasy team than anything else. You seem to be the only person who considers him a disappointment.

  • Charles Mullins

    Nope. I don’t think he is having the year he wants to. He has a lot of potential with a HOF QB, HOF 1WR, a potential HOF RB and a wide open middle. He should have been better sooner. The injury didnt help, but he should have been better so far this year.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He should be getting more targets in the passing game. Blame Roethlisberger. If you watch the All-22 tape, he’s open.

  • Charles Mullins

    It’s obvious that Ben plays favorites. You gotta get on the HoFers good side.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Roethlisberger does like Rogers. They’re frankly underutilizing him. But Brown and Bell require so many touches/targets as it is–it could be 30 per game–that there isn’t even a lot to go around. And I think they made it clear in the last game that Green is going to be another player who will receive 10+ targets.

  • Charles Mullins

    Going forward it doesn’t look good for him, but for a good part of the season he was battaling JJ, Grimble and Cobi Hamilton for touches. I think a lot of that “accountability” talk was pointed at him and he has suffered for it. The talent is there.