For the Steelers’ Roosevelt Nix, defense was his calling for his entire football career, and a position he was a standout at. However, the NFL is an entirely different type of beast, so in order to try and make it any way he can, Nix is learning how to play offense for the first time ever. It’s an incredible story for a player ranked highly in the lore of Kent State football, James Harrison included.
Nix was the first player in Kent State history to make the All Mid American Conference first team all-conference honors four seasons in a row. He ranks second on the school’s all-time sack list with 24, but he has a stranglehold on the school’s career tackles-for-loss record, with 65, including 12 forced fumbles. It begs the question though, despite such excellent production, why is a player of his caliber even being asked to switch to offense?
A major reason is his size, at only 5-foot-11, 260 pounds. His 4.79 speed coming out of school, coupled with a very pedestrian 28-inch vertical jump only hurt the notions that he could have continued success as a pass rusher at the NFL level, considering some 300+ pound offensive linemen at that level run a sub 5-second 40 time. However, that supposed detriment to Nix has only made him that much more hungry to prove he belongs, regardless if he makes it as a fullback.
“The NFL has definitely been a goal of mine since I was a kid,” Nix said, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Coming out my senior year, I was going to do whatever I had to do to play football wherever I was going to do it. I started changing my body and tried to make sure I had a future somewhere to play football.”
However, his new position seems to be a dying one, with the Steelers being one of a handful of teams who actually employ a fullback in their offensive sets. Long gone are the days of the Dan Kreider’s and Vonta Leach’s, and one need look no further than current starting fullback Will Johnson, who only played 221 snaps all season last year. However, when pressed on the question, Nix hit the nail on the head, saying that most modern day fullbacks really aren’t the traditional lead blocker who occasionally get thrown a bone out of the backfield, they’re much more athletic and capable of filling a variety of roles.
For instance, Johnson played wide receiver and tight end at West Virginia and he displayed the athleticism the front office coveted of the position at the school’s pro day. If anyone knows the uphill climb Nix is going through, it’s Johnson.
“He’s got it a little harder than I had it because he’s coming from the defensive side of the ball, and I was already on offense,” Johnson said, according to Fittipaldo. However, he did agree that he does have experience playing with a naturally low pad level, having played defensive line. “It’s just a matter of picking up the different concepts and learning how the offensive side flows. I think he’s doing well and hopefully he’ll continue that moving forward.”
After recently signing this past offseason, it’s a tall order in front of Nix, but to him, anything worthwhile in life doesn’t come without some hardships.
“There are definitely some things I don’t know about offense because I never played it,” Nix said, according to Fittipaldo. “I just have to continue to get better every day and take all the coaching that I can.”