Fullback is a dirty job, and Rosie Nix is doing it for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Roosevelt Nix played only defensive tackle until reaching the NFL, but he's flashing ball skills as the Steelers' fullback.

LATROBE -- The play was similar to the many Roosevelt Nix has made for the Pittsburgh Steelers here at St. Vincent College.

Curl from the slot ... into the end zone ... linebacker on his back ... hard, low throw ... snaring pluck for the score.

Nix made a difficult play look easy and therefore received little fanfare.

But when a fullback -- particularly a fullback who never played offense through high school and college, a fullback who played defensive tackle! -- makes one catch after another just like it, one can't help but ask questions about those soft hands.

"Great hands," said his position coach, James Saxon.

Did Saxon know about this last year? After the Steelers had picked Nix up off the street and wondered whether he should play offense or defense?

"Nobody did," Saxon said. "But the guy's an athlete, and that's a credit to him."

It's a credit to the Atlanta Falcons for moving the undrafted Kent State defensive tackle to fullback in the spring of 2014. But, still, they cut him less than three months later.

The Falcons must not have seen the hands.

Or the blocking.

Or the tackling.

At training camp Thursday he was even running the ball effectively.

The Falcons cut Nix two years and two days ago and he played in the Arena League until the Steelers signed him the following January. He became their starting fullback and a core member of their special teams last season.

Which special team does he play?

"All of them," said Nix.

Nix is a 5-11, 248-pounder who played the defensive line at both Reynoldsburg (Ohio) High School and Kent State University. He played in the Big 33 Classic after high school and went on to set a Kent State record with 65 tackles-for-loss and is second all-time (by one) with 24 sacks. He was the first freshman MAC Defensive Player of the Year and was named all-conference four times.

That explains his striking ability on special teams.

Last year Nix made nine tackles (eight solo) and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Oakland game that led to a touchdown and a 14-point Steelers lead.

But what explains those hands?

Nix caught only two passes last season, but not only has he caught everything thrown to him during team scrimmages this training camp, he attempts one-handed catches  during individual periods and makes them look routine.

"I'm just an athlete," Nix said. "I like to work on everything. Coach T always talks about adding to the resume, so that's what you gotta do."

Nix's father spent three seasons (1992-94) in the NFL as a defensive end, but he was 6-6. How did the 5-11 son end up playing only defensive tackle before coming to the NFL?

"I just played defense my whole life," Nix said with a shrug. "I went to a new high school and they already had a linebacker so I switched to defensive line so I could play. That's where I stayed."

That is, until he reached the NFL. Coaches then figured they had to move the short, squatty Nix off the line.

So, how did he adapt to fullback so quickly?

"Coach Saxon's a great coach," Nix said. "He played that position, so he understands."

Saxon spent eight seasons in the NFL as a 5-11, 238-pound fullback.

"The No. 1 thing if you want to play fullback in this league is want-to," said Saxon. "I mean, it's a dirty job. And he's capable of doing that dirty job."

And so Saxon went about teaching "Rosie" the nuances of lead-blocking.

"Just certain things about where you strike, where you put your hat placement, not worrying too much about getting overly technical with certain things," Saxon said. "The one thing he does is he breaks glass, meaning most guys will turn their head prior to contact. He doesn't. He stays right through the glass, and it's a beautiful thing."

And it was one of the little things that went missing from the Steelers in the playoffs last season. They had lost Maurkice Pouncey in preseason, Le'Veon Bell at midseason, Nix (foot injury) on Dec. 28 and finally DeAngelo Williams on Jan. 3. With the exception of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the middle of the Steelers' offense had been gutted by the time of their narrow loss at eventual Super Bowl champion Denver in the second round of the playoffs.

Of course, they're all back and ready to make another big push.

"We're going to the Super Bowl," said Nix. "I'll do my part to win that, and I'll keep progressing in my role, as much as I can."

"The guy is a tremendous guy to be around," added Saxon. "His effort, his want-to, his desire to be good is going to take him a long way."


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