The Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season elected to promote rookie draft pick Anthony Chickillo from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, first, possibly, because of an injured thumb for James Harrison, but also because his special teams capability made him more valuable than Caushaud Lyons, the seventh defensive lineman.
The two essentially switched places, with Lyons never seeing a helmet during any of the games on which he was on the 53-man roster. Since the call-up six weeks ago, Chickillo has spent the last four games with a helmet during games, contributing on special teams.
Since that time, the sixth-round outside linebacker has accounted for two special teams tackles, but more importantly, he made the Roosevelt Nix tackle on the Raiders returner count by being the one to recover the fumble after the first-year fullback was able to jar the ball loose.
Chickillo was not the first player to the ball, nor the first Steelers player to have the opportunity to recover it, but he was the one who displayed the best awareness and the instinct to secure the ball first and foremost.
The Steelers have constructed their roster in 2015 in such a way that they have wound up for most of the season with an anomalous 10 linebackers amongst the 53 eligible to dress for games, something that they had only briefly 20 years ago, and not at any point since.
Of course, Chickillo is decidedly 10th on that list, though not without a purpose for the future. After all, Harrison, at 37 years of age, is very near the end of his career, which may have as few as seven games remaining. And 2012 first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones could be playing his final season in Pittsburgh in 2016. Hypothetically at the moment, of course.
But part of the reason that the Steelers chose to call up Chickillo from the practice squad is unquestionably because they believe that he can be an asset to the team in the future in an aspect that includes contributions on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, by the way that he answered certain questions, or rather declined to answer, after he was originally called up suggested that there were teams showing interest in the former college defensive end. The Steelers may have ended up promoting him anyway.
But he has gotten the opportunity to see the field due to injuries sustained by Ryan Shazier and Terence Garvin, both key special teams contributors. At least one of them has missed each of the last four games, during which Chickillo has been active.
Shazier has been back for a couple of games now, but Garvin has remained out. He may be held out another game, especially considering the Steelers have a week off after Sunday’s contest.
Regardless of whether or not the rookie goes back to the inactive list, he has shown in his brief stint that he is deserving of the roster spot, a view that many of us held during the preseason. He has contributed positively to the team’s success on special teams after they force-fed him virtually every snap they could in the preseason, and it has paid off.