PITTSBURGH – Darnell Stapleton was a longshot to make the team even before he missed three preseason games with a knee injury.
Yet, there he was Monday morning, not on the practice squad, but as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' active roster. Even he was surprised.
"Yeah," he said, "being the fact that I was hurt quite a bit and missed a lot of preseason time."
Stapleton came to the team as an undrafted center/guard out of Rutgers. His friend from the same school, Cameron Stephenson, was bigger and had the better pedigree as a fifth-round draft pick.
Stapleton couldn't do anything about his draft status, but he gained 20 pounds to weigh in at 305 at the start of camp. He was considered by scouts as one of the team's better rookie free agents, but his chances took a hit when he injured the meniscus cartilage in his knee and he had to undergo surgery.
"I thought it was pretty much over," Stapleton said. "I thought they were going to release me and my chances in the NFL were pretty much over. But they gave me an opportunity. I had surgery and they waited for me to get better."
He also had veterans Sean Mahan, Chukky Okobi and Marvin Philip ahead of him, but Stapleton played well upon his return from the injury and made the team ahead of Okobi and Philip. Stapleton was one of the biggest surprises on the final roster.
"I just think we saw something in him for down the road," said line coach Larry Zierlein. "He played well in the two games he played in and we just think that he's got a chance to be a player."
What does Zierlein like about Stapleton's physical skills?
"The fact that he plays with leverage," Zierlein said. "He's got good balance. His strength is okay; it'll get better. But he has football movements. Some guys don't have them. He does."
Rookie surprised to make team
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