Steelers rookies trying to find niche in new spots

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The No. 16 jersey and what it ultimately signifies for Tyler Murphy fits just fine and all. It's just not the one he would prefer to wear.

Given a choice, the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie would rather have a lower number, maybe one with a single digit. You know, the kind the guys who line up behind center wear.

"I still consider myself a quarterback," Murphy said. "I feel like I can still execute there at a high level."

And while that might one day be true, Murphy also understands if he wants to have any shot of sticking around with the Steelers in any capacity he needs to put his ego in his pocket and a pair of wide receiver gloves on.

"I'm a slash kind of guy I guess," Murphy said.

Or just another first-year player trying to land a job. Making it in the NFL is hard enough. Murphy is trying to do it while learning a new position and trying to hold on to an old one.

"There's no easy route I guess," he said.

Particularly not for tweeners like Murphy — who has never played receiver in his life — or sixth-round draft pick Anthony Chickillo, who is transitioning from defensive tackle to outside linebacker in hopes of becoming the third generation of Chickillos to make an NFL roster.

Murphy appears to be making inroads. The former Florida and Boston College quarterback hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Landry Jones in the fourth quarter of a comeback 24-19 preseason victory over Green Bay on Sunday, the first time Murphy can remember reaching the end zone on a play that didn't begin with him handling the snap.

It was equal parts thrilling and weird

"It's always good to get on the field and help yourself out," Murphy said.

In any way possible. While Murphy will continue to see the field as a receiver on Saturday when the Steelers play in Buffalo, he pulled a quick change in practice on Wednesday. During one sequence Murphy switched out his No. 16 for a No. 5 and spent several series as the scout team quarterback in an attempt to mimic Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor.

It was a courtesy more than anything, at least for now. Murphy admits he hoped his role would change when veteran backup Bruce Gradkowski was lost for the season with an injury to his left hand Instead the Steelers signed Michael Vick to compete against Jones for the right to sit behind Ben Roethlisberger.

"I thought maybe I'd get pulled back to the QB room, get my shot there but coaches didn't see it that way," Murphy said. "I didn't get that shot yet."

Apparently, however, it is coming. Tomlin said Thursday there is a chance Murphy could see time at quarterback in the exhibition finale against Carolina next week, when the closest Roethlisberger will get to the field will likely come during the opening coin toss.

That's fine by Murphy, who understands the delicate numbers at work. He's no higher than fourth on the depth chart at quarterback and nearly as buried at wide receiver, a group that figures to have five spots already sewn up. There is little wiggle room and yet Murphy insists he's at ease.

"I've gotten the chance to watch a lot of veteran guys, whether it's (Antonio Brown) or Ben," Murphy said. "I've tried to take whatever they've given me and make the most of it."

Chickillo's challenge hasn't been quite as complex but no less daunting. He played four years on the defensive line at Miami before the Steelers took him with the 212th overall pick in the draft and told him he was moving to outside linebacker. For a player never asked to go and chase tight ends or running backs on pass routes before, the initial adjustment was a shock to the system.

"It was difficult in the beginning learning coverages and concepts," Chickillo said. "Once I got it, I feel like I got it."

Now comes the hard part: showing it. Chickillo made an impression early in training camp but now finds himself behind at least eight other linebackers. He has three tackles during the preseason but remains very much a project even with tutors like James Harrison in the room.

Making the roster seems like a long shot, though Chickillo remains confident. He always assumed he'd follow in the footsteps of his father Tony — a defensive lineman for two teams in the 1980s — and his grandfather Nick, who spent a season with the Chicago Cardinals in 1953.

"I thought I was going to play in the NFL since I was 7," Chickillo said.

Chickillo has a foot in the door. Stepping through it is another matter.

NOTES: Tomlin said there's a chance All-Pro C Maurkice Pouncey will return later this season. Pouncey is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his left ankle Monday. ... DE Stephon Tuitt (ankle) is out on Saturday but LB Lawrence Timmons (foot) and S Mike Mitchell (sprained right ankle) could play.



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