PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jordan Dangerfield has carved out a niche on the NFL’s fringe, one that’s not for the impatient or the faint of heart.
The 27-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers safety has spent much of the last five years bouncing from the 53-man roster to the practice squad and back again. He never gave himself a timetable, however, on when the whole playing football thing needed to work out, even as seasons passed and regular playing time proved elusive.
Dangerfield is well aware of the team’s long history of developing practice squad players into regular contributors, a list that includes former All-Pro linebacker James Harrison and starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Do the right things often enough long enough and Dangerfield believed things would eventually work out.
“They do a good job telling you that they stay in house a lot,” Dangerfield said. “When your number is called, you’ve got to be ready to go.”
Dangerfield certainly looked ready in the second half of last Sunday’s comeback victory over Jacksonville . After getting pushed around for most of the first half, the Steelers went to a three-safety look in an effort to slow down Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. Dangerfield saw the field for 14 snaps and twice in the third quarter used his 5-foot-11, 199-pound frame to take down the 230-pound Fournette, stopping Fournette for a 3-yard gain on Jacksonville’s opening possession of the second half, and for no gain later in the quarter.
The idea to use Dangerfield alongside Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis had been in defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s back pocket for weeks. Playing a run-heavy team like the Jaguars final gave the Steelers the impetus to put it in action. Dangerfield’s aggressive recklessness helped.
“Danger’s got a certain playing personality,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “You guys watch us in (training camp) and so forth. You guys know what that playing personality is. He was the right guy for the job.”
Maybe because Dangerfield is simply happy to have a job.
Undrafted after his college career at Pittsburgh, Dangerfield spent an entire year out of football in 2013 after failing to make the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers signed him to a futures contract in 2014, the start of a maddening process in which Pittsburgh would cut him, place him on the practice squad, then waive him again to address issues elsewhere.
Dangerfield seemed to have finally found his role in 2016 when he made the team coming out of training camp and earned special teams coordinator Danny Smith’s admiration for his enthusiastic approach to his work. Then he injured his ankle near the end of training camp and was placed on injured reserve. The Steelers signed him to another futures contract in January, but even with his lengthy history with the club Dangerfield understood there were no guarantees.
“You’ve just got to play your role,” Dangerfield said. “I don’t take special teams for granted. I love special teams.”
Still, Dangerfield’s goal, like that of every special teamer, is to eventually land a more regular gig. Yet he’s also well aware of his current spot in the pecking order. He’s at best the fourth safety on the roster behind Davis, Edmunds and veteran Morgan Burnett. When the Steelers (7-2-1) play in Denver (4-6) on Sunday, Dangerfield likely will spend most of the afternoon standing on the sideline when the defense is on the field. The Broncos rely more heavily on the pass than the Jaguars, meaning there’s no need for Pittsburgh to send three safeties out there.
That’s fine by Dangerfield. He has no control over when he plays. That’s hardly new territory. The fact he’s stuck around this long made his play against the Jaguars all the more gratifying. He sees no reason to change his mindset now, one that’s earned him respect across the locker room.
“Everybody is waiting for their opportunity and Danger is one of those guys,” Pittsburgh cornerback Mike Hilton said. “He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t whine and we know when his number is called he’s going to do his job and get it done.”
NOTES: RT Marcus Gilbert will miss his fifth straight game with a knee injury. Matt Feiler, who has filled in each of the last four weeks for Gilbert, is questionable due to a pectoral injury. If Feiler can’t start, rookie Chukwuma Okorafor will make his first NFL start. … DE Stephon Tuitt will sit a second straight week with an elbow injury. … LB Anthony Chickillo, dealing with an ankle injury, is expected to play.
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