The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the process of wrapping up their 2017 training camp and when they do, they’ll immediately play their second of four preseason games Sunday night. With one preseason game already in the books as well as almost all of the practices at Latrobe, Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith probably already has a small list of players put together that he might ultimately need to bang the table for just ahead of the final roster cuts being made.
Below is look at what Smith’s short list might just look like ahead of the Steelers second preseason game. While none of these players should probably be considered roster locks right now, it’s obvious that a few might end up making the team even without the help of Smith. Regardless, the special teams play of each is worth paying close attention to during the Steelers final three preseason games.
Mike Hilton – While Hilton appears to be a near lock to make the final 53-man roster this year due to his play so far at cornerback and injuries to others in his position group, the fact that he’s showing he can be a special teams contributor is certainly strengthening those chances. In the preseason opener, Hilton was credited with three total special teams tackles in addition to a fumble recovery. While Smith might not ultimately need to bang the table for him, it won’t hurt Hilton to have him on his side should he ultimately need him.
Sammie Coates – Now that he’s been removed from the Steelers Active PUP list, Coates as plenty of time to make his case for a roster spot in the final three preseason games. After his fall from grace last season as a wide receiver, Coates still was able to be weekly contributor on special teams and he ended the regular season with seven total special teams tackles in 192 snaps played.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – The long ago former first round draft pick has been able to keep one foot in the NFL due to his positive contributions on specials teams over the course of the last several seasons. Last year, however, a mid-season foot injury ultimately resulted in Heyward-Bey missing six regular season games. In the the 114 total special teams snaps that he did play, Heyward-Bey registered three total tackles. I really think he’ll ultimately need Smith banging the table for him several weeks from now.
Steven Johnson – Johnson has made a career so far out of making 53-man rosters because of his strong special teams play. After being inactive in the first three games last season, Johnson recorded six total special team tackles in the next four contest. Unfortunately for him, however, an ankle injury in Week 10 ended his 2016 season prematurely.
L.J. Fort – Like Johnson, Fort still appears to be in the running for what could ultimately wind up being four or five inside linebacker spots on this years 53-man roster. Last season, Fort played 207 total special teams snaps so he obviously had the eye of Smith. With that said, he only registered two total special teams tackles and they came in the Steelers first five games.
Knile Davis – Davis may or may not already be locked into a roster spot because of the position that he plays. With that said, the team is hopeful he can be their kickoff returner this year. He only returned one kickoff in the preseason opener and it was good for just 15 yards. He should get a several more opportunties to return kickoffs in the final three preseason games and it would probably ease Smith’s mind if he breaks one or two for significant yardage.
Keith Kelsey – Kelsey, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Louisville, really seems like a long shot to make the final 53-man roster this year. Any chance he might have is tied entirely to his special teams play the remainder of the preseason. To his credit, he registered two total special teams tackles in the preseason opener and that performance is bound to garner him more opportunities to impress Smith in the final three games. Kelsey needs to probably average at least two special team plays a week moving forward and hope Smith can’t live without him.
Jacob Hagen – Hagen is likely on the outside looking in right now as the team’s fifth safety. He had one special teams tackle and a forced fumble in the preseason opener so he’s worth keeping an eye on moving forward. Backup safeties are expected to be solid special teams contributors, big hitters and reliable tacklers.
Terrell Watson – Watson is another long shot to make the 53-man roster this year and that’s mostly because he plays the running back position. Smith, however, used Watson on seven special teams plays in the preseason opener and Azusa Pacific product delivered one total tackle, an assist, on a punt in that game. He will have a hard time becoming a player that Smith will ultimately be banging the table for, but the same can probably be said about Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix a few years ago.
Jake McGee – The Steelers newest tight end didn’t register any stats in the Steelers preseason opener but he still made a solid impact during the game nonetheless. Not only did McGee look good as a run blocker during his 14 offensive snaps played, he was impactful a few times while running down the field on kickoffs. He needs a ton of help in order to make the roster as a fourth tight end.