Skip to main content

Making up for lost time

Outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. has climbed aboard Mike Tomlin's often-referenced moving train, seemingly with every intention of hanging on for the ride.

Acquired off waivers from the Jets on Aug. 11, Rashed has navigated being thrown into the deep end well enough initially to position himself as a potential starter opposite T.J. Watt in the preseason finale on Sunday against Detroit.

"It looks like I could be, but I don't know," Rashed said after confirming he'd worked with the first-team defense for a second consecutive practice this week. "It's up to the coaches, we'll see."

The coaches have already seen enough to offer Rashed an opportunity on the practice field most free agents who enter the NFL as an undrafted rookie and switch teams in the middle of a training camp a year later aren't afforded.

Rashed arrived at Saint Vincent College with one game of NFL experience under his belt.

He registered one assisted tackle and played 16 defensive snaps and two more on special teams in the Jets' 45-17 loss to the Bills last Nov. 14.

The Steelers prepare for the preseason Week 3 matchup against the Detroit Lions

But with Alex Highsmith rehabbing a rib injury that has prevented him from playing in the first two preseason games, snaps have been available.

Derrek Tuszka and Delontae Scott started at outside linebacker in the exhibition opener on Aug. 13 against Seattle (Watt was among the veterans who didn't play).

On Saturday night in Jacksonville it was Watt and Genard Avery, a veteran of 53 career NFL games and 17 career NFL starts, including 12 with the Eagles last season.

Avery was released on Tuesday as part of the mandatory roster reduction from 85 to 80.

And the backup positions at outside linebacker remain unresolved, particularly the rotational reserve who subs in when Watt or Highsmith need a breather.

Highsmith is targeting the regular-season opener on Sept. 11 at Cincinnati for his return.

Opportunity, thus, is continuing to knock for someone as the train continues rolling down the track.

Rashed had a monster season at Oregon State in 2019, when he piled up 14 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss in 11 games.

His production fell drastically the following season (zero/two).

"There's really no big surprise to it," Rashed said. "Moral of the story, you had COVID (-19), you only played six games and I was the cover-down linebacker. I was the one that covered all the time.

"You can't really get too many sacks if you're covering tight ends and dropping into the flat all the time."

Rashed actually played seven games in 2020.

And while they weren't especially productive, they taught him to do more than rush.

"At the end of the day, I showed I can be a team player," Rashed said. "It's not always about me.

"I obviously took the rough end of the stick and didn't get drafted. You still gotta move on."

Rashed has been moving quickly since joining the Steelers.

He had a sack against Seahawks three days into his Steelers' tenure and played on the punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams against the Jaguars.

"I got on campus on a Thursday and I had to do physicals that Thursday morning," Rashed recalled. "I was like, 'When am I gonna get to go get some breakfast? I have a feeling they're gonna throw me out here in practice.'

"It ended up happening, so I was like 'I'm glad I got breakfast.' And it was 'tackle' (in practice), that's what surprised me."

Rashed has been doing the surprising ever since.

All aboard.

Tune in: Steelers Nation, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch your Steelers live and on the go! Watch live out-of-market preseason games across devices and live local and primetime regular season games on your phone or tablet. Start your free trial today here.