10 potential Steelers practice squad players

This one actually kind of hurts to write. I’d love for nothing more than every player to make the Steelers final 53-man roster. However, the reality is that teams must cutdown from 90 players (91 in the Steelers case) down to 53. That often leaves nearly half of the preseason NFL without a job come the beginning of the regular season.

Players will be released as soon as Friday, following the Steelers final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. All teams must make their final cuts by Saturday with the waiver process completed by the next day. Players not currently on a 53-man roster will then become free agents, who can be signed by any team, to their 10-player practice squad.

Here are some more rules regarding practice squads and how they are staffed.

Practice Squad Rules

An excerpt of how practice squads are constructed, according to The Sporting News, is listed below.

Beginning at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, a full hour after the waiver claim period following roster cuts, teams are able to begin establishing their 10-man practice squads.

Each team can carry up to four veterans — who can have no more than two accrued NFL seasons (six games on 53-man roster qualifies as an accrued season) — on its practice squad, and a player can’t be on a given practice squad for more than three seasons. Practice squad players are not eligible to play in games. Teams can sign players from other teams’ practice squads as long as the players are added to the new teams’ 53-man rosters (active/inactive).

Armed with that knowledge, here are the ten players whom I feel the Steelers will initially have on their practice squad to open the 2018 season.

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RB Fitzgerald Toussaint

If this looks like a familiar designation for Toussaint that’s because it is. He spent part of the 2017 season on the practice squad, but is eligible for one more year as one of the four designated veterans as noted above.

I have Toussaint making the 53-man roster in lieu of Le’Veon Bell signing his franchise tender. However, once that occurs, the running back will once again have to fight from week-to-week to remain on the practice team. He was bypassed at the end of 2017 for Stevan Ridley in terms of carries and doesn’t appear to be in the Steelers immediate future plans as they have drafted running backs in each of the last two seasons.

However, Toussaint once again showed up to camp in phenomenal shape and is putting in the work necessary to remain in the conversation. He’ll be considered for the practice squad but I don’t see the Steelers keeping more than three running backs on the roster.

WR Damoun Patterson & WR Trey Griffey

The camp phenom (Patterson) joins the camp surprise (Griffey) on the practice squad. If the Steelers weren’t already rich at the wide receiver position, I believe one or the other would’ve had a legitimate chance at making the 53-man roster. Instead, they’ll spend a year with the JVs and likely return to camp in 2019 under futures contracts.

Patterson wowed everyone in the first preseason game. A 6-2 rookie out of Youngstown State, Patterson went undrafted and also unnoticed through the wave of initial college free agent signings. Within the immediate “local” region around Pittsburgh, he was invited to the team’s rookie minicamp and made enough of a lasting impression to join the 90-man camp roster. His play during practice has seen him receive more preseason snaps than most of his peers, leading me to believe he’ll have an opportunity to learn and grow with the team into the future.

Griffey is the son of legendary professional baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. Nicknamed “Trey”, short for Kenneth Griffey III, he is a slender 6-foot-3 target who raised eyebrows when he received playing time with the Steelers starters in last weekend’s “dress rehearsal” game, catching one of two targets in his direction.

That leads me to believe he has an edge on the competition and will also receive a similar opportunity as Patterson to continue on with the practice team.

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TE Bucky Hodges

With the current crop of tight ends on the active roster intermittently exchanging injuries, Hodges has a chance to be bumped up to wearing a jersey on Sundays, but should start out on the practice squad, barring any serious moves with those ahead of him on the depth chart.

An athletic tight end who has faced his own injury issues early in his young career, Hodges was a player scouted by the team coming out of college last year. He was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round, but would be waived with an injury designation near the start of the 2017 season. He was picked up by the Carolina Panthers, who released him about six weeks later.

The New York Jets also came looking this April, signing Hodges but releasing him in late July when the Steelers added him.

There must be some reason why this talented 6-foot-6 tight end isn’t able to stick with a team, but that’s no indication that he will be totally cut loose from the team. Similarly, the Steelers stuck with journeyman tight end Xavier Grimble after he was previously released four times from three separate teams in a two-year span.

OL R.J. Prince & OL Zach Banner

Zach Banner is another late addition to the Steelers. With only eight games played in his NFL career he’s eligible for the practice squad and by all indications from those close with the team, he appears to be in good standing with offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

R.J. Prince is an undrafted college free agent who will be developed but has been the most impressive offensive lineman in camp and the preseason thus far.

With the Steelers only keeping eight offensive linemen by my projection, they’ll need a couple of extra bodies lying in wait, just in case of injuries.

DL Joshua Frazier

I’m also projecting that the veteran Daniel McCullers edges this seventh round pick for a spot on the 53. Drafted by the suggestion of new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar (who coach Frazier at Alabama) I suspect he may need some more seasoning before moving up to the main roster.

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LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

I project that “Ola” will actually make the 53-man roster, but will be released to make room for a linebacker released from another team; more than likely an inside linebacker, as this appears to be the biggest weakness of the defense, with memories of last year without Ryan Shazier fresh in our minds.

I absolutely love Adeniyi and believe he has natural talent to rush the passer and could be an undrafted free agent steal with more time to learn and grow: coincidentally that fits the story of the player who previously wore the number 92 as well.

CB Dashaun Phillips & S Jordan Dangerfield

These are the last two veteran players, who don’t have the maximum accrued seasons, to round out the four total the Steelers can keep.

Jordan Dangerfield has been in this territory before, fighting to move up and down the roster. He was waived with an injury designation last season and didn’t play at all. That leaves a third year of eligibility for him to join the practice squad once more and try to move up a crowded depth chart.

He also doubles as a special teamer, increasing his value.

The Steelers traded for Phillips during the course of the 2017 preseason. He’s shown a tenacity that should be just enough to see him hang on with the team, despite some shortcomings in preseason games. Unfortunately, he too faces a crowded depth chart for any chance of lateral movement onto the final 53.

Best of the Rest

I still believe that this group of players could still be fluid and change within the coming weeks, but this is a nice framework of who the team may attempt to develop. Part of the equation will include their health at various positions, where another player could be added due to the numbers game at practice falling short.

That said, a few names were left off of my 53-man roster projection as well as this practice squad prediction. The most notable of them is the fifth-round safety from Penn State, Marcus Allen. Battling injuries for much of the preseason, Allen has had little time to get a foothold with the team. I believe he’s destined to sit out this season on injured reserve.

I also believe that LB Keith Kelsey, OL Jake Rodgers, and CB Jamar Summers could be on the team’s shortlist of players to bring back as necessary. I don’t believe they’d use a roster spot for a backup punter, in this case Matt Wile, but teams have done so in the past.

L.J. Fort, Stevan Ridley, and Lavon Hooks are no longer eligible for the practice squad according to my calculations and will say goodbye to the Steel City in the coming days.

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