PITTSBURGH -- The final preseason game is shaping up to be all or nothing for Jordan Zumwalt -- if the rookie linebacker is able to play a week from Thursday.
Zumwalt has already been ruled out for the Pittsburgh Steelers' third preseason game because of a recurring groin injury, continuing a string of rotten luck that actually started four years ago when he enrolled at UCLA.
Zumwalt had a really good career at UCLA and helped elevate the Bruins’ program. But he had the misfortune of attending a school that doesn’t end its academic year until June. That forced Zumwalt to miss organized team activities (OTAs) because of some inane rule that prohibits rookies who are drafted from taking part in OTAs until their school year is over.
If missing most of the offseason practices wasn't enough, Zumwalt has been plagued by a groin injury since early in training camp. It has caused the sixth-round draft pick to miss valuable practice time and will leave him with just one preseason game to state his case for the 53-man roster.
And, again, that is if Zumwalt is healthy enough to play Aug. 28 when the Carolina Panthers visit Heinz Field for a game that will be all for the players who are trying to make their respective teams.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with him,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said of Zumwalt, who has shown promise when he is on the field. “As he gets well we’ll see what we’re going to do. That’s up to people that have a better pay grade than I do.”
One of those, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, acknowledged on Tuesday what he called the “unfortunate reality” for players like Zumwalt: Putting a 53-man roster together doesn’t allow for mitigating circumstances that players such as Zumwalt cannot control.
“It’s the witching hour,” Tomlin said of Zumwalt, “not only for him but for everyone who’s missing time due to injury.”