Steelers add Davis, Sensabaugh, improve depth

March 20, 2017
A Pittsburgh Steelers helmut sits on the turf before an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers came into the offseason looking to make some key additions, a backup running back, an upgrade at kick returner and a veteran cornerback among them.

On Monday, they might have checked off all of boxes.

The Steelers signed veterans Knile Davis and Coty Sensabaugh in what has been the team’s busiest day of free agency to this point. Davis received a one-year deal, and Sensabaugh received a two-year contract.

Pittsburgh also hosted veteran defensive lineman Tyson Aualu.

Davis, 25, spent most of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He played two games for Green Bay last season after a midseason trade, but was re-signed by Kansas City after his release by the Packers.

Davis had fallen behind Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West in a crowded and talented Kansas City backfield the past two seasons. He joins a Pittsburgh roster that has precious little depth behind starter Le’Veon Bell.

DeAngelo Williams, the Steelers’ backup the past two seasons, turns 34 in April and is a free agent. He is unlikely to be re-signed, though he has expressed an interest in returning.

Davis is accustomed to being the backup to a Pro Bowl running back. Prior to the Chiefs adding Ware and West, Davis was Kansas City’s primary backup to Charles after the Chiefs selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft.

The former Arkansas star had his best season in 2014, when he rushed for 463 yards and six touchdowns. He had two 100-yard games that season filling in for Charles.

“I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell),” Davis told reporters yesterday. “I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.”

Davis’ biggest value to the Steelers could come as a return man. He’s averaged 26.8 yards per kick return in his career, scoring two touchdowns.

The Steelers ranked 17th in the NFL in kick return average last season and have not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2010, when Antonio Brown scored his first career NFL touchdown in a 19-11 win at Tennessee.

“I’ve done well in the past with kickoff returns and feel I can come here and help the Steelers out,” Davis said. “I feel that can be a big role for me.”

Sensabaugh, 28, will be added to a defensive backfield that made improvements in 2016 with the additions of a pair of rookie starters, cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis. Pittsburgh ranked 16th in the NFL in passing yards allowed after ranking 30th in 2015.

But the Steelers wanted to bring in a player capable of challenging Ross Cockrell and William Gay on the depth chart. Sensabaugh, who has made 29 career starts, could do that.

A fourth-round pick of Tennessee in 2012, Sensabaugh signed a three-year, $14-million contract with the Rams last offseason. But Los Angeles cut him after three games and he finished the season with the Giants, appearing in 10 games. He started 15 of 16 games for Tennessee in 2015, recording 60 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass defenses.

“I wanted to be part of a family here,” said Sensabaugh. “The Steelers organization is top-notch. It’s a family atmosphere. I was talking to everybody that has been in the building. I have been a part of a couple of other organizations and this is one of the top-notch organizations. When you walk around the building and see how things are run, you see why the Steelers are in it year-in and year-out.

“I have played here a couple of years and the fans are ridiculous. I am excited to play for them.”

Aualu is another player with starting experience who could add depth to Pittsburgh’s roster.

Aualu (6-3, 304) was a first-round draft pick of Jacksonville in 2010 and has played on the interior and at defensive end for the Jaguars. He’s started 87 games and recorded 17.5 sacks.

The Steelers are looking for someone to serve as a backup defensive end to Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and at nose tackle for Javon Hargrave. Ricardo Mathews, who was the team’s primary defensive line backup in 2016, is an unrestricted free agent.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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