Short List Of Steelers Players Danny Smith Is Likely Watching Closely


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.

  • Boots

    McGee and Watson need to be opening a few lanes for Knile on kickoff returns.

  • Jim Foles

    David Johnson and Tousaint need to make room for McGee and Watson on the roster.

  • Steve Johnson

    Hmm! I didn’t see Brian Allen. Interesting

  • Biggie

    I definitely want to see more of Watson, Hilton and McGee. Also want to see Davis returning more, enough with Tucker, he isn’t even a longshot to make the roster with WR depth. Everyone needs to return some punts so I don’t have to see Brown doing it anymore and I don’t care how good he is at it.

  • Steel Your Face

    Does anyone know the last time the KR made it to the 40 yard line in a game…? Seriously.

  • Tristana

    Good thing: as bad as we are in returns, people also don’t return very well against us! It’s a safe bet, nothing ever happens in our games on returns. I think we didnt have a single TD ona return in one of our games on either side for a solid 5 years now.

  • Steel Your Face

    I never thought about the other part of the ball, just concentrating on our pathetic performance. Thank ye for your take on this!

  • Tristana

    I just looked some stats up, we gave up 1 KRTD in 2014, so 3 years, not 5.
    Now some advanced stats for KICK Returns, not punt returns.

    2010 Average Yards RETURNED: 23,5 (13th) – 1 TOUCHDOWN
    2011 Average Yards RETURNED: 25,1 (8th) Longest 52
    2012 Average Yards RETURNED: 25,3 (9th) Longest 68
    2013 Average Yards RETURNED: 22,4 (21st) Longest 46
    2014 Average Yards RETURNED: 21,7 (27th) Longest 41
    2015 Average Yards RETURNED: 24,2 (14th) Longest 38
    2016 Average Yards RETURNED: 21,5 (17th) Longest 44

    2011 Average Yards ALLOWED: 23,7 (16th) Longest 45
    2012 Average Yards ALLOWED: 24,0 (17th) Longest 51
    2013 Average Yards ALLOWED: 22,3 (10th) Longest 73
    2014 Average Yards ALLOWED: 23,1 (15th) – 1 TOUCHDOWN
    2015 Average Yards ALLOWED: 22,2 (10th) Longest 60
    2016 Average Yards ALLOWED: 24,7 (30th) Longest 72

    So, it looks really odd, but not really much impact on either side in terms of TD.
    BUT:

    1) We really haven’t had a single run longer than 46 yards in the last 4 years!
    2) We haven’t scored any touchdown on Kick Returns since the 2010 (!) season.
    3) BUT ALSO: Other Teams just scored a single touchdown in the last 6 years

    Our numbers usually are very pedestrian, but we never sucked really hard in either department, aside from out 2014 return stats and 2016 kicking stats

  • John Phillips

    The Steelers should be watching Danny Smith closely.