ITP Glossary: Shadow Roster

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From play action to pin-pull sweep, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Shadow Roster

Shadow roster is a term used by fans and media to classify the players no longer on the active or practice squad rosters, and available to be re-signed by the team in the event of an injury or a game planning need. Shadow roster players can be veterans who know the scheme/system and can plug in at a moment’s notice. Shadow roster players can also be fringe players with a particular skill – special teams coverage, for example – who can also fill the back end of a positional depth chart when another player is hurt or injured.

The shadow roster can also be a mechanism for getting around the restrictive injured reserve rule, which mandates that a player placed on IR misses the rest of the season. A team may release an injured end-of-the-roster player with the intention to bring him back once he is fully healthy. This allows the team to use the roster spot on a player that can help in the interim while not losing the player’s services for the season, but carries the risk that another team might sign the player.

Coach Bill Belichick explains:

When you get to a certain point of your roster you look at whatever the number is, say 46, those are the guys that are going to go to the game, those are the guys that are going to play. Probably in that group you have a couple of players that may be injured, so to start the season maybe they wouldn’t be able to play, but eventually you think they will be healthy and able to play.

Maybe it’s 50 players. Somewhere over 46 and somewhere less than 53, whatever that number is. Then you have basically depth and insurance for your team. So, you can have a player on your team that is on the 53 man roster, but he’s not going to play on the team until you get to the 46, and then whatever the criteria that would get him to the 46 man roster– is it special teams, is it injury, is it development of him because if it was just inexperience, do you feel like he could potentially grow into that role — and then you need players on the practice squad, whoever they are.

There are a lot of considerations that come into play. We’d like to keep more than 53. We keep 61 when you add the practice squad. There’s other players we’d like to keep working with, but we’re just not going to be able to do that. We have to decide, what do we do that’s best for the team?

This article from Boston Sports Media Watch in 2013 identifies players on the New England Patriots shadow roster a mix of rookies and young veterans many of whom would eventually see game action with the team. Guard Josh Kline was a starter in 2015, while James Develin made an impact in 2014 at fullback. Jordan Devey, Marcus Fortson, Justin Green, Chris Barker, Matt Mulligan, Chris White, Ja’Gared Davis, and Kanorris Davis all spent time on the Patriots roster over the next three seasons. Meanwhile master of the hook slide Austin Davis and A.J. Francis have hooked on with other NFL teams.

The head coach is responsible for scouting and evaluating the shadow roster players. Since they have recently been on either an active roster or the practice squad recently, the coach is able to use depth strategically and tactically, using this shadow roster to fulfill specific roles and/or needs.

Each week, usually on Tuesdays, teams bring in a host of players to try out and run drills separate from the team’s practice. Sometimes, these workouts are direct auditions for an open roster spot. Most often, the visit allows the team to get a close look at a player who may fill a role two weeks or two seasons from now. The evaluation of these players is especially important, given the inevitability of injuries both big and small over the course of an NFL season.

The shadow roster is a mechanism that some will use better than others. The team essentially creates a 54th roster spot by routinely churning their active roster and practice squad. One or two players are frequently released, and thus subjected to waivers. This is ideally someone you really like, but one that has very little market appeal so there is little fear of them being claimed by another team. This is a difficult mechanism for teams to utilize as you need buy-in from the player and a way to compensate them correctly.

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David McCullough wrote this entry. Follow Dave on Twitter @ITP_DaveMc

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