Practice squad set … with one spot open


To continue reading, log into your account:

[theme-my-login show_title=0]
Steelers linebacker Tuzar Skipper (51) records one of the team's 20 preseason sacks -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The preseason is completed. The roster is set.

The final process of getting ready for the start of the 2019 regular season begins Monday when the Steelers return to practice rested from the weekend that saw the team trim its roster to 53 players and a 10-man practice squad.

Up next: The regular-season opener next Sunday night against the Patriots in New England.

No time like the present for a quick test of exactly where this team is at as it tries to rebound from a 9-6-1, non-playoff, season than a matchup against Tom Brady and company.

Brady is 5-0 against the Steelers in Foxborough, having thrown 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions. The Steelers have sacked the future Hall of Fame quarterback nine times in those games.

Simply sacking Brady isn't the key to beating him, though. Fox example, when the Steelers knocked off the Patriots in 2018, 17-10, last December at Heinz Field, they only sacked him once. But they hit him seven other times, making him get rid of the ball before he wanted to.

If there was one thing the Steelers did a lot of in the preseason, it was hit the quarterback. They recorded 20 sacks in their four preseason games and regularly hit opposing quarterbacks, no matter who they had on the field.

And while they had just two interceptions in the preseason -- both coming in their finale against the Panthers last Thursday night -- they did force seven fumbles.

"I like the way we attacked the ball," Cam Heyward said. "We had a lot of fumbles this preseason. I thought we took a lot of steps toward getting more sacks, getting a lot more turnovers."

That will be critical to the team's success in 2019. The Steelers forced just 15 turnovers in 2018, including only eight interceptions. It was their lowest total for interceptions in over 60 years, dating back to a time when teams threw the ball just a handful of times per game.

For a team that has led the league in sacks the previous two seasons, the turnover totals should be higher.

The influx of veteran Mark Barron and rookie Devin Bush at inside linebacker has added to the team's speed. And perhaps its ability to force more turnovers.

"I like them," Heyward said of his fellow defensive players. "I want to fall in love with it this year. We've got all the capability in the world, all of the potential. (There's) a lot of speed, a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things. It makes us very flexible. But we've got to do it in real games. That's what we'll be judged on."

Starting Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

The Steelers finished 2018 sixth in the league in total defense, but tied for 16th in scoring defense.

They feel they're better as a group this year, but the true tests await.

"It looks pretty good overall," Heyward said. "I don't want to put a lot of stock in this because we've got to start from ground zero. We'll see where we're at next Sunday."

As their final bit of housekeeping, the Steelers finalized their practice squad Sunday.

Brought back were center Patrick Morris, wide receiver Tevin Jones, cornerback Trevon Mathis, guard Derwin Gray, running back Trey Edmunds, safety Marcus Allen, linebacker Robert Spilane, defensive end Henry Mondeaux and tight ends Christian Scotland-Williamson and Kevin Rader. All were with the team in the offseason and training camp.

That's 10 players, meaning the Steelers have one spot remaining. They get an exemption for Scotland-Williamson, an international player, should they choose to use that extra spot.

One player the Steelers released was claimed by another team on waivers. Wide receiver/returner Diontae Spencer, who played in the Canadian Football League last year, was claimed by the Broncos.

The Steelers had planned on offering Spencer (5-8, 170) a spot on their practice squad, but the Broncos now have to place him on their 53-man roster. Spencer averaged 14.7 yards on seven punt returns in the preseason, while also catching four passes for 39 yards and 48 yards on two rushing attempts.


It's interesting the Steelers are leaving a spot open on their practice squad. That suggests another move could be coming, perhaps at tight end.

To continue reading, log into your account: