Practice pays off for young Steelers

The ultimate goal for any player on the practice squad is to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, and for guard Chris Hubbard and receiver Justin Brown that became a reality this week. Both players spent the 2013 season on the Steelers' practice squad, but their hard work and efforts resulted in improved play and ultimately earned them a roster spot.

"That is what the practice squad is about," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "(Chris) has gotten better in his knowledge of the game, his fundamentals and technique. He has improved his physical makeup in the weight room. He is bigger, stronger, faster. I think the same could be said for a guy like Justin Brown who made a similar leap.

"You take pride in the growth and development of guys. It's the lifeblood of the program if you will. Those two guys are examples of guys that took advantage of an opportunity to continue to come to work and improve and get better. Hopefully many of the guys on the practice squad this year will do similar things."

One of those with an opportunity to do so is offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva, who played at West Point and served as an Army Ranger on three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was signed to the Steelers practice squad after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles.

"He's a guy that we believe has some upside, that has some talent, but aside from talent has some special characteristics that might assist him in terms of helping that talent come out," said Tomlin. "So we'll put him in the program like we did Chris Hubbard and Justin Brown. And he'll come with the mentality regarding getting better on a day-to-day basis and we'll see where that leads us. It's really as simple as that, not only for him but all the practice squad guys."

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