Steel Mill A.M.: Jordan Dangerfield making waves in Steelers secondary
Late last week as he left the practice field after taking a handful of reps with the first-team defense, Jordan Dangerfield was asked what was more important to put on film for a man in his position: consistently being in the right place at the right time, or contributing “splash” plays?
In the midst of his fifth NFL training camp and his fourth with the Steelers, Dangerfield paused to consider the question.
“You want to make plays, but at the same time, you want to do what you're supposed to do,” the safety said. “You don't want to go out there showing the coaches that you don't care what you're doing because trying to make a play.
“So I prefer to do the right thing, and then if something comes your way, you have to make the play.”
On Sunday, Dangerfield made the play. Two of them.
He had two interceptions nine defensive snaps apart in the second half as the Steelers rallied to beat the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason home opener Sunday, 17-13.
It was a game in which Dangerfield was seemingly always in the right place (Atlanta's offense — admittedly, not its first-team offense — gained just 79 yard over its final 11 possessions, many of which coincide with when Dangerfield was playing.
But though Dangerfield was characteristically steady, it was his big plays that gained some notice.
After the game, Dangerfield spoke a slightly different tune vis-à-vis the relative importance of “splash plays” compared to steady consistency.
“I don't think I've made many plays on the ball in my past, so I wanted to show (the coaches) I could catch the ball and I could be good in coverage, too,” Dangerfield said.
Dangerfield was right that he hasn't made many plays on the ball, to use Mike Tomlin vernacular, “in the stadiums.”
Heading into Sunday in 33 prior NFL games covering the preseason (16), regular season (14) and postseason (three), Dangerfield had zero interceptions, zero sacks and one forced fumble. That's one “splash play” in the equivalent of about two full seasons of play.
“They (splash plays) are big,” Dangerfield conceded. “That's a big part of the game, just to make plays and show the coaches what you can do.”
Dangerfield is one of the better stories of persistence among the Steelers — it took him four training camps (three with the Steelers) and multiple years on practice squads before he made a 53-man roster. Dangerfield made the Steelers at the start of last season, and he played 17 games (including the playoffs), starting two.
Though he seems firmly entrenched as no lower than fourth on the Steelers' depth chart among safeties (Dangerfield, like most of the Steelers safeties, prides himself on being able to play both free and strong safety), he also is a core special teams player. He ranked fourth on the Steelers last season in special-teams snaps played.
Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell are the starters at safety, and Robert Golden the No. 3, with Jacob Hagen a clear No. 5. But with Mitchell not practicing or playing virtually the entire preseason, Golden struggling at times and Hagen making an impression in his third season as a Steelers practice-squader, nothing is assured for Dangerfield.
It's possible he could be a starter for the Sept. 9 opener at Cleveland and also possible he won't be in uniform for it.
Dangerfield recognizes this, which is why he says he isn't treating his fifth NFL training camp and differently than the previous four just because he'd finally made it to the active roster last year.
“You know how the business is,” Dangerfield said. “Same approach. With the journey I have been through. I will never be complacent, I don't take nothing for granted. At all.
“Just come out here and try to work hard every day.”
Some notable Steeler snap counts from Sunday's preseason game:
Offense (60 total)
RB James Conner, 54 (90 percent)
G Matt Feiler, 50 (83%)
G Keavon Milton, 45 (67%)
WR Sammie Coates, 37 (62%)
WR Martavis Bryant, 20 (33%)
Defense (77 total)
OLB Anthony Chickillo, 48 (62%)
DL L.T. Walton, 39 (51%)
LB Matt Galambos, 38 (49%)
CB Brian Allen, 20 (26%)
DT Dan McCullers, 11 (14%)