PITTSFORD – Stevenson Sylvester can take another step toward finding a new NFL home this week by performing well in his old one.
Sylvester is in a tight battle at backup linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, who start two days of joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers today at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. Sylvester spent his first four professional seasons with the Steelers, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2010 out of Utah.
“It feels great, man,” Sylvester said of his opportunity this week. “It’s just good to be back to football.”
Sylvester appeared in 50 career games with Pittsburgh, but started only twice, with most of his work coming on special teams. The Steelers elected not to re-sign him after 2013, and he was out of a job until the Bills called just before the start of training camp.
“I hadn’t really done any football work since December – my last game in Pittsburgh – so it’s been good,” Sylvester said of the start of his Bills career. “When you got a competitor just sitting in the wings, not doing anything, I felt kind of like I felt before the draft, when you don’t know what’s going on and you’re just anxious. You don’t know how much to work out, you don’t know when you’re going to go somewhere. It was hard to stay focused, but I occupied my time and kept training.”
Sylvester was part of a Utah team as a junior in 2008 that went undefeated. He had three sacks in a Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama as the Utes finished No. 2 in the country. At the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, his 40-yard dash of 4.63 seconds was second fastest among outside linebackers.
Sylvester said having a knack for “being in the right spot at the right time” is a strength of his game. That could very well appeal to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who must deal with starting linebacker Nigel Bradham serving a one-game suspension in the season opener against the Chicago Bears.
“Anything I can do to help this defense,” Sylvester said. “Coach Schwartz is a good coach. He moves fast, so you’ve got to pay attention and be a fast learner, but my teammates have been great. It’s helped learning this defense.”
Sylvester in turn can help his teammates navigate Saint Vincent College. The Bills and Steelers practice at 2:55 p.m. today and 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Sylvester isn’t the only member of the Bills with ties to the Steelers. Right guard Kraig Urbik, quarterback Dennis Dixon, center Doug Legursky and fullback Frank Summers all played at least one season in Pittsburgh.
“We’re looking forward to going in against an organization that is a physical team, that is a tough team, a team that has won in the past,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “We’re excited about being able to compete with them.”
Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has a previous relationship with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin given that both of them are from the Hampton, Va., area.
“I saw him a few weeks ago before we came here,” Manuel said, referring to the start of training camp at St. John Fisher College. “He told me whatever look we need as an offense he’ll give it to us. It’s going to be very competitive, we’re going to try and treat it like three days of a game. Each day of practice, we’ll try and treat it like a game.”
Manuel was in high school when he first met Tomlin.
“He was the head coach for the Steelers at that point and they had given me an award for an accolade in high school that I had gotten,” he said. “He was there and he gave me a lot of words of wisdom before I went to Florida State. He had worked with Coach Fisher before at Cincinnati, so he gave me a bunch of info on Jimbo and that kind of stuff. From my area, we’re very proud of the people who’ve had the opportunity to make it to the NFL, NBA, MLB, whatever it is.”
Due to the threat of impending weather, the Bills canceled Tuesday’s morning practice at St. John Fisher, and instead participated in a walk-through before departing for Pittsburgh.
The two teams will practice from 3 to 5 p.m. today and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday before taking Friday off. They will meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a preseason game at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.