Next Man Up: An in-depth look at the Steelers 2022 practice squad

Why practice squads matter

The announcement of the practice squad gets little attention, but later people forget it. Real football begins, and no one cares about those who are two steps away from seeing the field.

And yet every year the players in the practice squad make a good or bad impact on the season. One thing they often do is play at the end. This is even more true under current NFL rules that allow experienced players to be on the practice team and allow for practice team call-ups that do not expose players to exemptions.

With those new rules, the Steelers have played over half the players who were on the practice team for Week 1 in the past two years, with eight players watching the field in 2020, and nine in 2021. Some have played key roles in games and some have even moved on to full-time roster spots like Robert Spillane.

Steelers practice squad players have logged a total of 3,679 snaps over the past three years, with 6 players playing 200+ snaps. Here are the players with the most snaps played since starting the season on the practice squad over the past three years:

Henri Mondaux: 570 Photos
Johnny Holton: 549 Photos
Derek Tuzka: 441 Photos
John Leglu: 407 Photos

You probably recognize each of those players, and you should; They were not in the Steelers’ plans when the season began, even though they were instrumental in a good number of games.

Some players from the practice squad will be instrumental in this year’s Steelers season, and others will play key roles in future seasons. The history and nature of the NFL consistently reflects this. That’s why head coach Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” mantra is such a big deal. We don’t know which player it will be, but it will happen.

I’m not going to cover all 16 players in one article, we’ll start with the names people will be most familiar with.

returning players

John Leglu, OL: Leglu joined the Steelers late in the 2020 season, when they signed him to their practice squad. He got a futures contract at the end of the season and after the 2021 off-season, signed him to the practice squad. When BJ Finney and Jesse Hasnauer were struggling to fill in left guard for Kevin Dotson, the Steelers called on John Leglue. He played almost every snap of week 13, and took over as a starter in week 14.

Leglue lacks versatility and is not a top athlete. He isn’t a great pass blocker, but he has good shape and is a great inside field blocker. His best game was in week 17, when the Steelers simplified the offense and ran a ton inside the field to win his final home game of Ben Roethlsberger’s career against the Browns. His limits appeared in the 2022 preseason. Those limitations and the lack of versatility of his position has made him again in the practice squad. But if the guard is injured, then John Leglue could return to the roster.

Anthony McFarland Jr., RB: McFarland joined the practice team for the first time in his career. A fourth-round pick in 2020, he saw little success as the entire run game faltered, and after a MCL tear just before the start of the season, he spent most of the year off the active roster in 2021.

McFarland looked like he could keep it all together in the preseason this year, but Jaylen was fighting for the third running back spot on the roster with the rise of Warren McFarland and Benny Snell. While McFarland is a solid kick returner, he has offered little on special teams, while Benny Snell has proven himself as a major special teams player. McFarland brings speed into the running position and versatility as a solid pass catcher, but while having a decent pace while healthy, he has been hampered by leg injuries so far in his NFL career and has been able to break big gains. Not there.

Carlos Davis, DL: A Steelers seventh-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Davis brings excellent athleticism to the defensive line, and shows glimpses of potential throughout his rookie season. He injured his knee in the first week of the 2021 season, and did not play again until December. Davis joined the practice squad of several other players, including his twin brother Khalil Davies and Henri Mondo, who the Steelers had in their very deep defensive line group this off-season.

Davis would like to go back to build on his promising rookie season, and the Steelers’ history has shown that he is very likely to see the field as one of the players more likely to be called up to a defensive lineman.

Delonte Scott, OLB: Scott joined the Steelers as a practice squad after being cut from the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 2021 off-season. He was active for one week of the season, playing 7 snaps on defense and 2 on special teams against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Scott makes up the practice squad after a full season with the Steelers. He joins early TJ Watts and Alex Highsmith as the only outside linebacker to last the entire offseason and is still working for the Steelers. We’ll see if it pays off as the season progresses.

Cody White, WR: White is not a player most Steelers fans are familiar with, even though he saw snaps in 15 of the 2021 Steelers’ 17 regular season games. White spent most of his time on special teams where he recorded 4 tackles. White only saw 77 snaps on offense, but caught 5 passes for 33 yards in that time. He has good shape and reliable hands and plays on special teams that the Steelers can rely on, so he is a very good candidate for a practice team.

Mark Gilbert, DB: Gilbert was a free agent signing for the Steelers in 2021, and made up the practice squad. He was signed by the Detroit Lions before week 8 and was on their active roster for most of the rest of the season. When the Lions cut Gilbert, the Steelers added him to their practice squad.

While he did not play in any games for the Steelers, he played well against the Steelers in Week 10. Gilbert showed his physicality and movement in that game, especially in a play where he did a really good job showing off both of his. strengths and weaknesses.

Lions v Steelers, OT, 6:56.

Mark Gilbert (#40) is covering Dionte Johnson.


Gilbert is a physical defender, and uses that physicality to stay well with the receivers. He is not the best at tracking and playing the ball in the air, especially on over-the-shoulder throws. When the ball is not found, he drops the catch here and is shaken by Johnson. But Gilbert keeps up with the game and snatches up the football. Gilbert is not an elite athlete or technician, he is a fighter and the Steelers liked him enough to bring him back.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series when we see the rest of the Steelers practice squad.

Source link