When it comes to the outside linebacker position, the Pittsburgh Steelers have an unusually deep group of pass-rushers consisting of six players, and that is already factoring in the fact that they lost a former first-round draft pick at the position in free agency earlier this year. They return four players from last season in the group, and added two more in the draft.
Two veterans in particular understand just how vulnerable their position has become in relation to the influx of young talent in the form of first-round pick T.J. Watt, and seventh-rounder Keion Adams, who grew up with Javon Hargrave.
Those two would be Arthur Moats, entering his eighth season, and Anthony Chickillo, entering his third, and, as Joe Rutter writes, both of them understand that they can’t be thinking of the numbers game that awaits them when it comes time to chop down the 90-man roster to just 53 players.
Moats has been on the roster for the past three seasons after signing a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the team in 2014, parlaying a solid rotational season into a new three-year contract. A former sixth-round draft pick, Chickillo has carved out a niche for himself on special teams, but spent much of last season as the primary starter until Bud Dupree returned to man the left side.
“You can’t” be thinking about the numbers at the position, Chickillo told Rutter during the offseason. “Guys who look at the numbers don’t stay around long. You’ve got to come out, stay focused, keep the horse blinders on and keep working”.
This is a familiar theme that we have heard throughout the years from players who understand that they are on the proverbial roster bubble, although it does not apply universally. We have also heard from players who did count the numbers hoping that they would make it, and they have.
But Moats recalls that during his first season with the team, they actually went into that first regular season with an astoundingly low three outside linebackers. That was later augmented with the re-signing of James Harrison in the middle of that year, of course, but the point stands.
Generally, the Steelers have made it a habit of carrying five outside linebackers in recent years, and with the amount of options that they have this year, it would be hard to imagine this being the year that they choose to deviate. They may even keep a sixth on the practice squad depending on who gets cut, as they have done before.
”Why do the numbers?”, Moats asked rhetorically. “At the end of the day, if you’re productive, everything is going to take care of itself”.
Whether or not that may be literally true, it does seem to be the best and most pragmatic approach to take. No matter whether or not you understand exactly where you are currently in some perceived hierarchy, that knowledge will not improve your standing. You can only accomplish that through your performance. So why bother counting?