If you’ve been following the training camp updates this season and you’ve seen or listened to any of the preseason games so far, then two names that you’ve heard quite a bit, backups wise are David Gilreath out of Wisconsin and Derrick Williams out of Penn State. It’s not that their stats so far are overwhelming by any stretch but they are producing when called upon, and that’s big when you’re trying to make an NFL roster.
The Steelers made sure they had plenty of competition in camp, but Jimmy Young and Juamorris Stewart were cut on Monday and the rest were spared temporarily from the Turk until final cutdowns, which are due by (Sept 2). It’s not that we’re overlooking guys like Tyler Beiler, Marquis Maze, and Toney Clemons, but the fact is that Williams and Gilreath are the front runners based on practice and game time. The team will likely only keep 5 WR’s on the roster and 4 of those positions have long since been spoken for even if Mike Tomlin will never admit as such until he has too. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace are the obvious starting four. By the way Wallace is supposed to report on Tuesday and sign his 1 yr deal per Antonio Brown and NFL.com. Ok enough that, we’ll deal with him when he gets here as Tomlin would say.
David Gilreath is a small receiver who plays big, he’s all of 5’10 170 lbs but he’s got good quickness and speed, plus he’s got a fearless attitude about him which is an absolute must if you’re going to play in Pittsburgh. So far in the preseason, Gilreath has 4 catches for 78 yds. While that may not seem very significant, when you consider how the preseason has gone so far, he’s done a good job. He’s done what’s been asked of him, keep his head down and listed to the coaches. The fact that Tomlin said they made a conscious effort to get him the ball in the Colts game tells you they potentially have serious interest in him long term.
Derrick Williams had his day to shine against the Bills when he caught 2 passes for 26 yds and TD. The scoring play was quick come back route in which he came back for the short pass, made 1 move and then went up field and into the end zone. Plays like that show the coaches you aren’t afraid to go after the ball in traffic and that you are beginning to understand how to adjust on the fly. Williams has a good motor and decent size, if given the chance he could turn into a solid option for Ben in a couple years.
When you look back at the first 3 games so far in the preseason you can appreciate a bit more the limited opportunities these guys have had so far in game situations. In the opener against the Eagles the starting offense only played for two series and backup offense was held in check all night long by the Eagles defense. There was little chance for anyone to do anything when Jerrod Johnson was running for his life. In the second game vs the Colts, Tomlin made sure that Gilreath got plenty of looks and he was able to haul in the 4 passes. In the game this past Saturday night in Buffalo, the starters played the first half and just into the 3rd quarter. After that guys like Derrick Williams were able to get on the field more and the former Penn Stater was able to haul in the TD pass.
With all the receivers on the field in backups roles and Jerrod Johnson getting most of the work in the first 2 games the opportunities weren’t always there but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. That’s how life goes in the preseason; it’s a constant learning process for everyone. In the NFL though you can’t make excuses, when you’re name is called you better come through and for the most part both of these guys have.
Both Williams and Gilreath figure to get a lot of work on Thursday evening against the Panthers. The starting offense will only play a few series at most and then all the remaining backups will take the field, doing all they can to avoid having their name come up in the final cuts.
Unless the team keeps 6 WR’s on the roster, which isn’t likely, one of these two will see their days in Pittsburgh come to an end but keep your eye on both of them on Thursday night, it should be fun to watch.