‘Grinders’ Dangerfield, Fort find niche on Steelers defense
Of the players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current 53-man roster, only eight pre-date safety Jordan Dangerfield, who signed his first contact with the team in January 2014.
Other than a handful of procedural transactional periods, Dangerfield has remained property of the Steelers for all but 42 of the 1,779 days since.
Linebacker L.J. Fort joined the organization during the 2015 training camp, and he effectively has been with the Steelers for all but 14 days since.
But despite their long histories with the organization, the 5-foot-11, 199-pound Dangerfield and Fort (6-0, 232) might be the most unrecognizable players on the active roster. That’s because between them, over their nine combined seasons they have been part of the Steelers, Dangerfield and Fort have combined to start two games.
Finally, though, their time has come — and not just on special teams.
“That’s my guy,” Dangerfield said of Fort. “We’ve grinded together.”
After all the practice-squad time, scout-team duty and occasions on which each was released by the Steelers only to be re-signed days later, Fort and Dangerfield finally have found their niches.
“It’s awesome to be able to prepare and gameplan and feel as if you’re a part of everything a lot more,” Fort said.
The roles for Fort and Dangerfield have evolved with the season. Fort has become the lone inside linebacker on the field when the Steelers go to their dime, and Dangerfield enters the game when they go to a three-safeties package.
“Those guys are grinders who have grinded their way,” said veteran starting guard Ramon Foster, himself an undrafted player. “To see them out here finding their niche now and having their packages on defense and having made plays for us, too, it’s huge.”
During last week’s win at Jacksonville, Dangerfield had two tackles among his 10 defensive snaps. Fort had a tackle during his 14 snaps six weeks after he had his first career touchdown on a fumble recovery against Atlanta.
“We expect those guys to be ready when called upon,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We live by that creed: The standard is the standard. Those guys understand that.”
Fort’s former and current teammate, Joe Haden, recalled how the Northern Iowa product turned heads during his rookie training camp for the Browns in 2012. Fort started in his NFL debut and had an interception and a sack during a one-point Cleveland loss in Philadelphia.
He hasn’t started a game since. But he has appeared in all but four of the Steelers’ games over the past three seasons, primarily as a core special teamer. He also, at times, has filled in when Vince Williams or Ryan Shazier was out with an injury.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for a guy like Fort,” Williams said. “He came in and earned everything he ever got.”
Fort’s athleticism made him the Steelers’ best on obvious passing situations because he can handle coverage against a tight end or a back out of the backfield. It’s a skill he flashed impressively after Shazier’s spinal injury last season and when Williams missed the Falcons game last month.
Dangerfield, who played at FCS Hofstra and Towson, went to training camp with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie in 2013, and he spent the vast majority of 2014, ‘15 and ‘17 seasons on the Steelers practice squad. Dangerfield made two starts among the 14 games he played as part of the 53-man roster in 2016, and he has been a core special teamer in every game this season.
But what made him a good fit for the three-safeties package?
“Danger’s got a certain playing personality,” Tomlin said with a smile.
Tomlin meant Dangerfield likes to run to the ball. He likes to hit, and he likes to tackle.
“It’s just feels good to get out there and play,” Dangerfield said. “I’m thankful that they trust me and believe in me to put me out on the field to contribute.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.