Cracking the Pittsburgh Steelers 53 man roster out of training camp as an undrafted linebacker this year seems to be a very daunting task, as there just doesn\’t seem to be a spot for one to do so. When you look at the locks on the roster, you definitely see why. Baring injury, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester and rookie Sean Spence all will be on the 53 man roster and you have to think that Chris Carter, the fifth round pick from last year, also has an inside track on a roster spot as well.
Over the last three seasons the Steelers have kept, 8, 9 and 8 linebackers on the roster respectively entering the first week of the regular season, so you can see how big of an uphill battle the young linebackers face. Keep in mind that the Steelers will likely need to carry 5 safeties of the 53 man roster for week 1, as opposed to the normal 4, as Ryan Clark is surely to miss the opening game in Denver because of his sickle cell trait. In addition, 3 nose tackles on the 53 man roster is also a possibility depending on if Casey Hampton starts the season on the PUP list or not.
Despite the insurmountable odds, there have been two young undrafted linebackers that seem to have caught the eye of linebackers coach Keith Butler during the OTA sessions that wrapped up last week. Those two players are Adrian Robinson out of Temple and Brandon Hicks out of Florida. “I think I\’ve got a good group this year,” said Butler on Thursday. “Probably a little more impressive than normal with the guys we got.” Butler continued, “The kid from Temple, Adrian Robinson, has been doing a good job. The kid from Florida has been doing a good job. We\’ve got some players.”
Although Butler noted that both Robinson and Hicks have impressed thus far, he also cautioned that the big test will come when they put the pads on. “Here\’s the deal. They all look good in shorts,” said Butler. “It\’s almost like a beauty contest, but when the hitting starts, we\’ll find out about them when it starts.”
Robinson, who went undrafted this year, is likely the one of the two with the best shot of grabbing a roster spot, as he plays outside and could push Carter in training camp. Robinson was a defensive end at Temple, and the transition to standing up in the Steelers 3-4 system, is always a tough adjustment for the tweener types, especially being as reps will be scarce for him. For Robinson to make the 53 man roster, he will have to out perform Carter on special teams for starters and show that he has more long-term upside than Carter as an outside linebacker. Butler did note that Carter is coming along well on Thursday, so the Fresno State product will likely be tough to upset.
Hicks played both inside and outside while at Florida and went undrafted in 2011. He spent training camp last year with the Buffalo Bills, but did not stick. He figures to be getting his reps inside with the Steelers and seems to be the much longer shot of the two when you look at that players ahead of him on the depth chart, which includes Spence, who really has flashed thus far according to the reports. Although the praise from Butler is nice, a practice squad spot seems to be the best Hicks can hope for at this point.
The Steelers begin their mandatory mini-camp this week, and while it is great for young players to get mention from their position coach in June, they still have a long road ahead of them. That being said, Robinson could be a player to watch for when the Steelers get things started in Latrobe. Carter certainly has the inside track, at what figures to the 8th and final linebacker spot, but I would in no way consider him a lock right now. If Robinson makes the transition from shorts to pads well, he might at worst be looking at a spot on the Steelers practice squad.