It will definitely be an uphill climb for any offensive tackle to make Pittsburgh’s roster this year. For one thing, the Steelers have the young and emerging Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert set assume the starting spots on the left and the right sides. In addition, the franchise also has Kelvin Beachum as a more than serviceable backup, and Colbert & Co. probably even have long-time veteran Max Starks on speed-dial if injuries occur at either position as well.
With all of the young and talented depth in front of them, Mike Farrell of Penn State (6’6″ 303 lbs.) and Chris Hubbard of Alabama-Birmingham will definitely have their work cut out for them this summer and fall.
Farrell played both left and right tackle during his career for the Nittany Lions, and the Pittsburgh-area native started in parts of three seasons at Penn State. Mike is a veteran lineman with some versatility to his game, and it makes a large amount of sense why the Steelers would bring him in for a tryout.
Although Hubbard is a bit on the “light side” at 286 lbs. and will likely have to gain another 15-20 lbs., he nevertheless possesses a ridiculous amount of athleticism. At the University of Alabama’s Pro Day, Hubbard ran his 40 yard dash in 4.71 seconds and recorded a vertical jump of 28.5″. A two-year starter for the Blazers, Chris is still definitely on the raw side. Nevertheless, his athletic ability is definitely intriguing if he can show little drop-off after some weight-gain.
If Adams, Gilbert, and Beachum stay healthy and can continue to improve though, it will be very difficult for even one undrafted tackle to make a splash with Pittsburgh at this point. While it will be extremely hard for the tackle prospects to even make the practice squad, the Steelers will have an open spot or two available for some interior offensive line prospects if veteran Doug Legursky is not signed over the next couple of months.
A three-way competition will likely ensue this summer and fall between Nik Embernate of San Diego State, Joe Madsen of West Virginia, and Mike Golic, Jr. of Notre Dame to nail down a spot on the practice squad for a team in need of interior offensive line depth.
Madsen (6’3″ 310 lbs.) and Golic, Jr. (6’4″ 300 lbs.) both played center and guard during their collegiate careers, and both could be primed to take over for Legursky if he does depart. Madsen however has very short arms and lacks a large amount of raw strength, while Golic, Jr. does not have a large amount of full-time starting experience (1 year) and definitely lacks the agility and athleticism of a player like the former Mountaineer.
Embernate however could be a potential sleeper if he can adequately learn to backup at either the center or the tackle position at the pro level. A strong run-blocker with some nastiness and a great deal of experience (4 year starter with the Aztecs at right guard), Nik could very well impress the coaching staff of the team that brought him in for a pre-draft visit last month.
Although those three will likely scratch and claw for a chance to simply make the team, I believe that the versatile Ivory Wade of Baylor has a legitimate shot to make Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster.
At Baylor, Wade (6’3″ 313 lbs.) started a total of 43 games at three different positions over his four year career. Ivory logged time at left guard as a freshman, right tackle as sophomore and junior, and was Baylor’s starting center last season. Thus, I believe that Wade’s versatility could very well make him a lock for a practice squad spot. Moreover, it would not shock me if Ivory makes the roster as a “swing lineman” on game-days during the 2013 campaign.
Wide Receivers/Running Backs/Kick Returners
Just like at offensive tackle, I do not project there will be much room on Pittsburgh’s roster or practice squad for Reggie Dunn of Utah, Curtis McNeal of Southern California, or J.D. Woods of West Virginia.
Dunn is definitely an intriguing prospect because of what he can bring to the table as a kick returner. During his career at Utah, Dunn returned a total of 5 kickoffs for touchdowns, including an impressive 4 last season. Although Reggie is fast (4.22 40 yard dash), he is smaller (5’9″ 178 lbs.), and did not make much of an impact at the wide receiver position for the Utes. While it would be nice to see the Steelers keep him around, I’m not sure if they would be able to use a roster spot on a “returner only” player during their rebuilding process.
McNeal (5’7″ 191 lbs.) will probably have more difficulty turning heads this summer and fall, especially because the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell and signed LaRod Stephens-Howling on “Draft Weekend.” While Curtis was productive during his junior season (1,005 rush yards, 6 touchdowns) with the Trojans, he struggled a bit last year (701 rush yards, 2 touchdowns) as he lost his full-time job to Silas Redd. With a crowded backfield and Stephens-Howling already in town, the shifty McNeal’s chances of sticking on the practice squad are slim to almost none.
The “Draft Weekend” acquisitions of Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown will also probably hinder Woods’ (6′ 203 lbs.) chances of making a big impact over the coming months. Last year, Woods enjoyed an effective senior season (61 catches, 637 yards, 4 touchdowns) as he played “third fiddle” to Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Unlike Bailey and Austin, Woods is more of an outside the numbers pass-catcher. And unlike Bailey and Austin, Woods does not possess a great deal of speed and is far less explosive than his former college teammates. As it stands, J.D. will not only have to beat out the two rookie draft picks, but he will also likely have to unseat Plaxico Burress and David Gilreath for reps once training camp and OTA’s begin.
Luke Ingram of Hawaii had an under-the-radar but nevertheless fantastic four-year career with the Warriors. The long snapper started 52 games, did not botch a snap which led to a blocked kick, and was named the Warriors’ Special Teams Player of the Year last season. Unfortunately for Ingram (6’5″ 258 lbs.), Greg Warren is one of the league’s most reliable long snappers.
Nevertheless, it is good to see that the coaching staff has brought somebody in to put some heat on the veteran. Plus, if Warren does sustain an injury, Ingram could be a viable player to have on “speed-dial” if the Steelers need a new long-snapper.
Readers: Do you believe that any of the 2013 UDFA’s will make the Steelers roster or practice squad this fall?
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