For most of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers with five outside linebackers on the 53-man roster—in fact, they carried 10 linebackers in total, and, by the end of the season 11. And unlike in the past, where they were satisfied to have two thoroughbred players that can rack up the snaps, the coaching staff was disciplined in using their players in a rotation.
Instead of relying upon James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to log 100 percent of the snaps in a game—which they often did in their prime—the defensive coaching staff tried to split of the reps roughly evenly, factoring in the ‘hot hand’ philosophy and closely monitoring fatigue in their efforts to keep the pass rush as fresh as possible.
The one outside linebacker that did not play a significant role in the defensive efforts on the roster was rookie sixth-round draft pick Anthony Chickillo, who was the second of two outside linebackers drafted last year behind first-round draft pick Bud Dupree.
Chickillo, a college defensive end, made the rare transition from end to linebacker within a 3-4 system, choosing to slim down—as the Steelers wanted him to do—rather than bulking up to play defensive end at the professional level.
A third-generation football player, he found the transition came easier to him than was projected for him, and his excellent football intelligence helped him to get a leg up on his fellow rookie and first-year peers, drawing early recognition for his performance in training camp.
The Steelers clearly saw this and made efforts to ensure that he got plenty of work on special teams in order to give himself the opportunity to make the 53-man roster, which he initially did before being moved to the practice squad a day later. But he was promoted back to the roster after three games.
He was sparsely used overall, serving as an active player in just seven games, and only one of those featured reps on defense, during which he logged 22 snaps, recording no defensive statistics.
The game was no doubt an eye-opening experience for Chickillo, who spent his time working against perennial All-Pro Joe Thomas, and he hardly managed to find any success as a pass rusher against him. But while he failed to register any statistics, the most important factor is that he did not look out of place.
In spite of that fact, the Steelers never used him on defense again for the rest of the season, even with injuries within the rotation. But with pending changes in the rotation hinging on the future of Harrison, might he emerge as a candidate to see more playing time in 2016?
That may depend most directly on whether or not the team wants to continue the rotation. No doubt they would like to see Dupree become a dominant player in his second year, and they have been holding off on giving Jarvis Jones a bigger role for three years now.