When Tuzar Skipper arrived at the Steelers’ rookie minicamp, he was tired. After all, he had just finished up a similar experience with the Chiefs a couple of days earlier when the Steelers called, offering another opportunity at a tryout.
It would be the third rookie tryout camp for Skipper, a defensive end from Toledo who had recorded 11.5 sacks in his final season for the Rockets. And he wanted to make this one count. After all, he felt a little more at ease in this tryout.
The Steelers already had selected his teammate, receiver Diontae Johnson, in the third round of the draft. And former teammate Ola Adeniyi, a promising young defensive end turned linebacker, also was on the roster.
Skipper took that last chance after not only going undrafted, but going unsigned in the days following the NFL Draft.
A 6-foot-3, 246-pound linebacker, Skipper knew he would do anything for that last chance. So when area scout Danny Colbert called, despite being tired, Skipper answered the bell once again.
Adeniyi, who had made the Steelers’ roster as an undrafted rookie free agent the year before, was quick to note Skipper had a shot to make it, even when he was asked to talk about Johnson. He knew Skipper was a diamond in the rough.
“I knew it was going to happen. That’s my boy,” Adeniyi said of Skipper making the Steelers’ 53-man roster.
Skipper earned that spot by getting to the quarterback — a lot. He recorded an NFL-high 5.0 sacks in the preseason, making it impossible for the Steelers to let him go.
“I wasn’t surprised he did that,” Adeniyi said. “I told everybody, at (the) least he’s getting two. One thing I know he can do is pass rush. That’s why Toledo recruited him and that’s why he’s here. He can do it.”
But it had to be surprising to some. After all, in his first two seasons at Toledo, Skipper had 30 tackles and one sack in 11 games.
The difference in his final season?
“It was just the coaching there. It was a GA. He took the time. Zach Colvin,” Skipper told me. “He was a Bowling Green graduate. He wound up going to the (Rams) during camp, then he got hurt. He came back as a graduate assistant. He took the time to work with us night and day with pass rushing. We’d get done with practice and he’d be like, ‘All right, I’ll see you guys at 3 o’clock.’ We were working pass rush for a long time. I’m happy that he did because you can see the aftermath.”
Colvin has since moved on to become a defensive assistant at McNeese State. But his impact on Skipper was immense.
That ability to rush the passer — showing good hand usage — opened the door, but Skipper kicked it in. An injury to Adeniyi that required him to miss the final two preseason games didn’t hurt, either.
Neither would say how much of an effect Adeniyi’s injury had in Skipper making it. They just know he did.
“He earned his spot,” Adeniyi said. “Now, he’s just got to stick.”