LATROBE, Pa. – One of the biggest things coaches want to see out of young players in a preseason game is how they handle things when they're pushed to their limits.
Do they fold or make continual mistakes, or do they thrive when under pressure?
But the tests for each player are different.
For Steelers first-round draft Broderick Jones, the big test was how he would handle playing nearly a full game at left tackle in Tampa Bay's heat. For seventh-round pick Spencer Anderson, the challenges are altogether different.
While Jones' tests come each day at left tackle, Anderson has played all five spots along the offensive line in training camp. And that even carried over into the team's first preseason game last week when he played three different offensive line spots in the same game.
Anderson played both guard spots and right tackle in the Steelers' 27-17 victory, a carry over of what he's been doing at practice here at Saint Vincent College on a regular basis when he's lined up at all five spots on the line at various times.
Oftentimes, Anderson doesn't know where he'll be lining up at practice until offensive line coach Pat Meyer tells the former Maryland star it's time to get on the field.
"It's usually right after we get out there and they'll be like, 'you're going to be here,'" Anderson said. "Sometimes, I'll be at left tackle, and then I'll go in at right guard before then. You get these four reps at left guard and then you get the next four reps at right tackle. But that's cool with me. I'm just trying to get my feet hot and do whatever I can."
The key is that he's proven capable of playing all five spots. And that's something that's critical for a player just hoping to earn a spot on the Steelers' 53-man roster.
Anderson knew coming into this camp that he wasn't going to get a shot to be a starter. The Steelers returned all five starters from 2022, then added veteran guard Isaac Seumalo in the offseason and drafted Jones in the first round.
But, Anderson knew if he could show the versatility to play all five spots on the line, he'd have a chance.
That ability to play all five spots makes Anderson like a unicorn to the coaching staff.
"It's rare to have somebody who does all five and can play all five like that," Meyer said. "We've played him most at tackle, but he's gotten ample reps at guard. In these preseason games, a lot of these younger guys are going to play the majority of the reps. That's why we flip, go left and right. He plays tackle, just so that when we get into a preseason game and somebody goes down, who knows? It would be a shame to put somebody in there who hasn't had reps at that position. We try to move them around."
But nobody has moved around quite like Anderson. And his ability to do so and do it well has stood out.
"It's beneficial for us, but it's good for the kid, too," Meyer said. "As he gets older and matures and figures it out more and more, we'll settle him down a position. But right now, he's equally good inside or outside."
That doesn't mean all the moving around is not without its challenges.
But it's also not as if Anderson's college career didn't prepare him for what the Steelers are doing.
His first college start in 2019 for Maryland came at right tackle. In 2020, he started five games, four at left tackle and one at center. In 2021, he made nine starts at right tackle and four at center. Last season, he started 11 games at right guard and one at right tackle.
The move to center for him is the one that stands out. As Meyer mentioned, plenty of backup NFL linemen can play both guard and tackle or guard and center. But few have the ability to play all five spots on the line and have done so at some point in their careers.
Anderson said his move to center was purely out of necessity. He, in effect, took one for the team.
"At Maryland, we were having trouble at center. They said, 'We heard you can snap.' I'm like, 'Where'd you hear that from?'" Anderson said. "It needed to be done. It was best for the team. The first game I had was against Penn State. They had some guy (Derek) Tangelo or something like that. He was their guy. We wanted to shore up the inside. They were like, 'We'll move you back to tackle next week.' Next thing you know, they said I looked so good at center, they might as well keep me there."
But not for long.
With all of the moving around, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Anderson hasn't gotten a chance to settle in at one spot – at least not until last season at guard.
He's philosophical when it comes to what position he likes best.
"Pat asked me the same thing. It depends on the play call," Anderson said with a laugh. "If you're going against some of the feared pass rushers in the league, the T.J. (Watt's) of the world, I'd rather be inside. But if I'm going up against Cam (Heyward), I'd rather be outside. I don't really have any preference. As long as I'm on the field, I make the team, it's alright with me. I've kind of had to adjust that throughout my college career. Some guys are position limited, position specific. I don't want to come off the field."
By continuing to show that versatility, that might be what happens. At least it has for Steelers in the past, Kelvin Beachum, Chris Hubbard and Matt Feiler among them in recent history.
All three of those former Steelers cut their teeth with the team playing multiple positions. And all three remain in the NFL, in the case of Beachum, for more than a decade. Anderson was the 251st pick in the draft this year. Beachum was the 248th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
"Somebody during the draft process told me, 'You remind me a lot of Kelvin Beachum,'" Anderson said. "Me being a football nerd, one of the scouts said, 'You probably don't know who that is.' Of course I know who that is. He's a tackle for the Cardinals. I'm just a football nerd. I don't know their career trajectory, but I know of them. Sometimes, you've just got to ride the wave before the storm comes and be light on my feet, do whatever is asked of me."
If it sounds like the 23-year-old has a good head on his shoulders, it's because he does. While at Maryland, he completed his BA in Communications while then finishing his Master's work, as well, with a degree in Business Administration and Management.
His approach to offensive line play also is cerebral. It has to be when he's playing so many different positions, often on the same day.
"It's about having a good knowledge of the playbook because not everybody can do that," Anderson said. "You might know specific calls at tackle, but you don't know the other positions. You try to put them at guard and they're like, 'Bro, I couldn't tell you (what the play call is).' I've got to know the entire playbook like the back of my hand. I feel like it's a challenge I'm willing to accept."
That willingness to dive into the playbook and learn the entire offense, its nuances and everything involved with each play serves him well, especially when he has to change sides on the line.
"Everything flips in your head. You've just got to be ready," Anderson said. "Center is more top down. You have to start locking in on protection and IDing. I've been paying attention. I kind of envisioned that this was going to happen. I made sure to know the playbook, so everybody is on the same page when I do go to center. I don't want them to be 'alright, it's you're first day. You're going to have some mistakes.' I want to have a strong grip on it when I do go out there."
That approach has served the rookie well in Meyer's eyes.
He's continued to challenge Anderson on a daily basis.
"The more you can do, anywhere, the more valuable you are for the team," Meyer said. "A one-position backup, that's kind of the rarity anymore. We dress eight now, so occasionally you can have those guys. Before, when you dressed seven, the backup had play all three interior and the swing tackle had to play both sides. The more you can do, the easier it is for you to get on the field."
And regardless of where you're playing, there's not a bad spot on the field. At least that's how Anderson approaches things.
"At then end of the day, it's all football," Anderson said. "It's all offensive line play. Your job is to move a guy off of a spot and protect the quarterback."