Pittsburgh Steelers rookie outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo has arguably been the biggest riser since the start of training camp. If not the biggest, certainly among the few who have seen their stock rise most significantly.
When the pick was first made, many wondered whether he was drafted to play defensive end or outside linebacker, even though the Steelers and position coach Joey Porter stated from the beginning that they wanted him on the edge and to drop some more weight in order to get him where they want him to be physically.
Because of the uncertainty over whether or not he would be able to make the transition from what was largely a 3-4 defensive end role in college to a 3-4 outside linebacker at the professional level, many were skeptical regarding the selection, but—though it is still relatively early—he could have the Steelers doing something you rarely see in Pittsburgh.
Should Chickillo end up making the 53-man roster, it will likely mean, barring injuries, that the Steelers have chosen to carry 10 linebackers into the regular season, which is something that I cannot recall them doing in recent memory.
But there are many signs that point to them carving out a spot for him on the roster, in spite of the fact that they actually only carried eight linebackers initially last year, with only three outside linebackers, before injuries necessitated that they do otherwise.
The fact that the Steelers have been working him actively on both the left and the right side is, to me, pretty telling that they think he has the ability to stick around, increasing his versatility, and thus his value. He has played both left and right outside linebacker in games already.
That also speaks to his level of knowledge about not just the defense, but the game itself, which should not be surprising as a third-generation football player. He has had a tremendous start in large part because his intelligence for the game is already at a level that is uncommon for first-year players.
Perhaps the most crucial detail, however, is the fact that the Steelers have been active in getting him on special teams. In the first preseason game alone, he worked on every special teams unit bar the field goal/extra point squad. He covered kicks and punts and also served on the return units.
Given that special teams is not something that he did in college, and the fact that he actually showed reasonably well for himself this early on, has to be encouraging with respect to his odds of staying on the roster. A few years ago, the Steelers force-fed another rookie outside linebacker, Adrian Robinson, special teams duties in order to justify keeping him on the roster.
It’s one thing to tell you all this, however, and another thing to show you. In truth, I’m battling a bad ear infection at the moment that has limited my workload and ability to review game tape, but I plan to have a more comprehensive look at what I’ve talked about above later in the week, explaining why Chickillo is primed to stay on this roster.