The Pittsburgh Steelers just wrapped up their second week of 2017 OTA practices on Thursday and already training camp can’t seem to get here quick enough as the offseason speculation about moving players around is already in high-gear now that the draft is behind us in addition to there being limited information about which player is doing what and where they’re all lining up and with what unit.
Currently, several players who ended the 2016 season on the Steelers roster aren’t locks to make the 53-man unit this year and included in that group is veteran linebacker Arthur Moats, who has been with the team since 2014, and especially since a first-round draft pick was spent on former Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
The drafting of Watt, along with the Steelers selecting former Western Michigan edge-rusher Keion Adams in the seventh-round this year has resulted in a more-crowded outside linebacker room in Pittsburgh and that’s certainly great to see. It’s obvious at this point of the offseason that Watt, Bud Dupree and veteran James Harrison will all be on the Steelers 53-man roster in 2017 barring injuries and that leaves two, or maybe even three, outside linebacker spots up for the grabs.
Making the backend of the Steelers 53-man roster this year as an outside linebacker will require those players to be solid special team players in addition to being able to function as reliable contributors on defense. That likely means we should be treated to quite a training camp battle between Moats, Adams and Anthony Chickillo for what will more than likely wind up being the final two outside linebacker spots.
Of those three players, Chickillo likely has the best shot at securing one of those two potential open spots as not only did he seemingly bypass Moats on the outside linebacker depth chart midway through the 2016 regular season while Dupree was still recovering from groin surgery, he was also a core special teams player who led the team in snaps on those units despite him missing one game and being limited in at least one more by an ankle injury.
Moats, by the way, only played 70 total regular season special teams snaps in 2016 and 20 of those came in the Steelers regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, which just so happened to be the lone game that Chickillo missed.
In short, as we sit here with two weeks’ worth of OTA practices now concluded, it’s easy to speculate that Moats and Adams could potentially be the outside linebackers doing battle during training camp for what might just be the fifth and final spot on that positions depth chart.
Now, the most-recent wild speculation seems to be that should Moats ultimately lose out to Adams is that he can easily be moved to inside linebacker and thus provide depth behind starters Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams. That speculation is likely based purely on the fact that Moats did play inside some during his time with the Buffalo Bills.
While Moats was indeed a very reliable tackler for the Bills as an inside linebacker and especially during the 2013 season when he reportedly did not miss a tackle in the 177 run snaps that he was on the field for, in addition to also recording 14 run stops, according to Pro Football Focus, it was quite obvious that he was only used as a two-down player and thus removed from the field quite a bit in obvious passing situations. When he was targeted by opposing offenses in the passing game during that 2013 season, Moats allowed 10 catches for 112 yards on 11 total targets.
The Steelers currently have young inside linebackers Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort battling with veteran Steven Johnson for spots behind Shazier and Williams and to be quite honest, all three of those players are better on special teams than Moats is currently at this stage of his career and I think his decrease in snaps in that phase of the game last two seasons easily reflect that.
In short, Moats will more than likely need to beat out Adams this year during training camp in order to make the final 53-man roster, or hope the team ultimately decides to keep six outside linebackers in total, or have an injury ahead of him occur. Even if Moats were to be kept as a sixth, there’s an outside chance he would be a weekly candidate for the gameday inactive list and especially if he winds up being way down on the special teams asset list.
Moats has certainly been an asset to the Steelers over the course of the last three seasons and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better human and locker room character. With that said, and while anything can certainly happen the remainder of the offseason in terms of injuries, it’s outside or nothing for Moats moving forward.