Three former New England Patriots reside on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ active roster leading up to Sunday’s meeting at Heinz Field.
But to use the word “former” seems a little strong.
There were few memories made during their respective stays in Foxborough. There were no regular-season games played, and no Bill Belichick soundbites regarding their acquisitions or acclimations. There wasn’t enough time to see or say much. It was a cup of coffee for each. A hotel check-in and check-out.
Linebacker L.J. Fort spent two weeks there. Nickelback Mike Hilton spent eight days. Tight end Xavier Grimble spent 48 hours.
Now they’ll host their onetime employer for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff with the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. So, let’s take some time to reacquaint with the trio of Steelers in advance of it.
- A Patriot from: Aug. 4-18, 2015
The Patriots were Fort’s fifth team since entering the league as a rookie free agent from Northern Iowa in 2012. Before them were the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals. After them would be the Steelers. But from Aug. 4-18 of 2015, the linebacker, special-teamer and part-time fullback was at Gillette Stadium for training camp and one preseason game. Fort, now 27, was waived before a second. He’s since played in 26 games over the last two regular seasons, recording 11 tackles and two pass deflections. And he’s accrued 30 snaps on defense and 230 snaps in the kicking game for Pittsburgh this campaign.
- A Patriot from: Sept. 6-14, 2016
Hilton wasn’t even the Patriots’ most-discussed undrafted free agent from Ole Miss last year. Defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton took the title there. But Hilton, who spent his rookie preseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars before being waived and signed to the Patriots practice squad for just over a week that September, has been heard from. The almost-Foot Locker sales representative joined Pittsburgh’s practice squad late in 2016, returned on a reserve-futures contract, and claimed a spot at slot corner to begin 2017. The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Hilton has gone on to intercept Marcus Mariota and Joe Flacco this year, also tallying a sack and 48 tackles through 13 games and four starts.
- A Patriot from: Nov. 26-28, 2014
Grimble’s stint with the Patriots got lost in the stuffing of Thanksgiving 2014, when he and long snapper Charley Hughlett replaced corner Daxton Swanson and linebacker Deontae Skinner on the practice squad. Two days later, both Grimble and Hughlett were gone, but not out of a job for long. While Hughlett is now on the 53-man roster in Cleveland, Grimble is on the 53 in Pittsburgh. The USC product has also made stops with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, yet has appeared in 25 games over the last two seasons with the Steelers. Grimble has caught 14 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns over that span.
And it’d be hard to blame him, or Hilton or Fort if they couldn’t recall much from their span in New England. They were in town and under contract for 24 days combined.