Every indication through the first two weeks of the season firmly establishes Pittsburgh Steelers third-year outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo as the team’s top backup at both the left and right positions behind starters Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.
The former sixth-round pick has gotten an opportunity to see a lot of playing time in place of each of them so far, starting for Dupree in the season opener and then playing the majority of Sunday’s game after Watt was forced out of the lineup with a groin injury.
Through two weeks, he actually leads the team at the position in seeing the field on 108 snaps. Watt is second with 82 snaps, while Dupree logged 63 snaps on Sunday. The Steelers’ other two outside linebackers on the 53-man roster have so far combined for a total of 10 snaps during the regular season.
That is pretty significant when you consider the fact that those other two outside linebackers are some notable figures, especially James Harrison, who led the position in sacks last season and was their best pass rusher down the stretch. He has seen just four snaps so far this season, as I wrote about last week.
Arthur Moats is yet another player at the position who is capable of contributing, but so far his biggest role has been on special teams. The reason for this is two-fold.
For one thing, the Steelers are pretty clearly intent at this point in moving away from the rotational approach to the outside linebacker position. They have been doing it for the past couple of years and it has only been marginally effective, finding their most success when they moved away from it.
Combine that with the fact that Chickillo has simply been playing well and doing his job—and injuries have provided him with the opportunity to step in—and you get what we have been seeing to date through two weeks.
While he has had a couple of notable blemishes working in pass protection, more specifically in tracking a pass-catcher down after he has already made the reception, the Miami product has held up generally well in all of his assignments.
Assignment discipline and conditioning are why the coaching staff trust him to log so much time. That is the reason that he jumped ahead of Moats on the depth chart already last season, and why they did not feel the need to rush Dupree into the lineup, both last year and in the season opener.
And on top of that, he still continues to be an integral member of the special teams unit. He did draw a holding call on a punt return on Sunday, but other than that, he has been one of their best players since his rookie season in that regard. Now he is bringing some of that mentality to the defensive side of the ball.