As news around Pittsburgh starts to slow down, I start to dig deep into the Steelers’ roster. Many players know that their chances to make an NFL roster are slim and they will do anything it takes for a team to take a peek their way. The Steelers will have to release 37 players by time of the regular season to cut back from their 90-man preseason roster to a 53-man regular season roster. So I decided to create a series of posts you will see through the summer and training camp on Steelers N Stuff called “The Long Road to 53” to show how difficult it will be for some of these players to make the cut, but also do not count them out. They are the underdogs at training camp. Just like undrafted free agent Willie Parker was in 2004 or Ramon Foster in 2009. We start with Nik Embernate.
Just 8 players can be placed on the practice squad of an NFL team which makes some of these players’ job even tougher. Nik Embernate understands that he has a long road ahead of him if he plans to make the Steelers 53-man roster. Although he is on a team with an offensive line with little depth, he is competing among 16 offensive linemen. Last season, the Steelers held onto 10 offensive lineman including long snapper Greg Warren. With 5 starters, that leaves just four spots open for depth.
At San Diego State, Embernate started 46 career games. All in which, he made at right guard. He earned the nickname “Embernasty” after his freshman season when he was ejected from a game when he started a brawl on the field after a false start penalty that he did not hear the whistle for. He has been known to be a physical and emotional player during his time at San Diego State.
What impressed me with Embernate was his ability to run block. San Diego State ran for 2,000 yards three consecutive seasons (2010-2012). In 2012, they actually had a combined total of 2,925 rushing yards. Embernate was a big help in this category. His ability to pull block created big holes for his fellow Aztecs. He often takes his man to the ground while blocking. Embernate told Pittsburgh Tribune’s Alan Robinson back in May that:
“Going back to college, the way I played hard, physical, tough — that’s what the Steel City is all about,” Embernate said. “That’s what I kind of feel myself as: a blue-collar worker. I’ve got my lunch pail going to work every day, just trying to get better and help out no matter what way I can.”
Two years ago, multiple Michigan defensive lineman complimented Embernate after a physical game and told him they thought he could play at higher level. Then in his senior season bowl game against BYU, Embernate started at right guard but had to make the transition to right tackle when a teammate went down with an injury. Embernate was also battling a high ankle sprain all season but played through the injury. Embernate matched up against first round selection Ziggy Ansah and did a serviceable job at right tackle. He did, however, give up a costly sack fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter against Kyle Van Noy.
As an undrafted free agent, you take the good with the bad and hope it turns out to be something great. Embernate’s chances are slim but his physicality speaks for itself. He has grown smarter over the years at guard and has good experience right out of the gate.
6’4″ 300 lbs; Lettered: 3 times; Hometown: Yucaipa, California; 40-time: 5.18