The Steelers protected four players from their practice squad in advance of Sunday’s playoff opener against the Cleveland Browns, according to the NFL transactions release on Tuesday.
Wide receiver Deon Cain, tight end Kevin Rader, running back Wendell Smallwood and kicker Matthew Wright were all protected by the team, which means they cannot be signed to the active roster of another NFL team.
Cain, Rader and Wright were all promoted to the active roster for Sunday’s regular-season finale in Cleveland. Rader played for the first time this season, Cain for the second and Wright for the third.
Rader drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin for his ability on special teams coverage units, particularly as the team has been dealing with a significant short of bodies at both tight end and linebacker. Starting tight end Eric Ebron remains on the COVID-19 reserve list, but could be eligible to return on Thursday if he continues to test positive.
Wright also impressed on Sunday, making all three field goal attempts, converting from 29 yards once and 46 yards twice, and also adding an extra point.
Cain was not targeted and played just six snaps of offense. Smallwood has been activated one time this season, against Baltimore on Dec. 2, and played just two snaps of special teams.