The Pittsburgh Steelers have a way of turning projectable players into NFL assets. Jordan Dangerfield, the star of the Steelers week two preseason can attest to that. Dangerfield spent two seasons on the Steelers practice squad before being called up to the show. Last season Dangerfield excelled on special teams, and played 90% of the team snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs, recording five tackles. Dangerfield added two interceptions on Sunday to show his progression as being a trusted backup moving forward. L.J. Fort is another perfect example of the Steelers development abilities, as he likely solidified himself a roster spot on Sunday for the second straight season.
L.J. Fort Gaining Momentum
L.J. Fort was an undrafted free agent from Northern Iowa. The smalls school product signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2012, making the team as an undrafted free agent. Fort dressed for all 16 games and even started a game for the 5-11 Browns.
In 2013, he signed with the Denver Broncos, spending the season on the practice squad. In 2014, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a full-back. He only dressed one game. That off-season he spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals for OTA’s and spent the early portion of training camp with the New England Patriots. The Steelers signed Fort late into the summer, and stuck him on their practice squad for the 15 weeks, before calling him up for one week in which he did not play.
However, 2016 was when the time the Steelers put into Fort’s development showed. Fort became a special teams asset and began making plays in the preseason. Fort made it to the active roster for 14 games last season.
What Fort Brings
Last season Fort made his name on special teams. He played 208 snaps on special teams and was a solid contributor for those reps. Still, coming into the 2017 off-season, there was a question as to whether the Steelers would keep him on the 53-man roster.
The Steelers brought back Steven Johnson, who was seeing the field over Fort in 2016 before a foot injury ended Johnson’s year. Johnson and Fort would be battling for the fourth inside linebacker job, and there is no guarantee that the team will keep five. That spot could go to an extra cornerback, wide receiver or offensive lineman, positions the team is deep in.
Fort proved he can hang on special teams last season, but Johnson has been a career special teams player. What separates Fort?
The two have been taking reps next to each other in training camp and did so in the preseason. However, in week two, Johnson stepped out with a hamstring injury. While Johnson should not lose his job just because he was not on the field, Fort stood out as a player who should win this battle while Johnson was down.
Fort put up five tackles on Sunday and was in the screenshot near the play by the whistle blow of almost every play. Below, Fort was not even credited with a tackle. However, he showed his instincts and willingness to get into the nitty gritty to defend the run.
Later, Fort sells a blitz, gets a free lane to the quarterback and bats a pass down behind the line of scrimmage.
These are just two small examples of what Fort brought in a game where he was shadowed by Dangerfield, and Anthony Chickillo among other standouts. Fort should be able to hold down the fourth inside linebacker job for the 2017 season, beating out Johnson. He should also be looked at as not only a reliable special teams asset, but a player who can handle emergency depth snaps on defense. Fort just may be transitioning from the Jordan Dangerfield path of progress to the development track of Vince Williams, who has finally earned a starting job after four years of hard work on special teams.