The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps more than any other team in the history of the NFL known for having a great lineage of linebackers, which I suppose would really go back to Andy Russell, who was a transitional player from the franchise’s dog days to their sudden dynasty.
Those who followed were among the best to ever play the game, including Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame, but many others since then have contributed to that legacy, including a free agent signing who had his best years year, Kevin Greene. One of the greats is even on the coaching staff, even if almost everybody wants him fired.
T.J. Watt has the best shot at being the next great linebacker in team history. Some might be inclined to include Ryan Shazier, who made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, but who is facing a long road ahead to jogging again, let alone playing football.
This is all a means of prefacing the state of the linebacker position, and where Anthony Chickillo fits into it. The ‘other’ outside linebacker drafted in 2015, along with Bud Dupree in the first round, the former Miami defensive end has seen some extended playing time during the past two seasons as a spot starter and injury replacement.
Coming from a football lineage himself, Chickillo is appreciative of the history of linebacker play with which he is surrounded and would love to do what he can to add to that legacy. “I have a great appreciation for the players who played the game in the past”, he told Teresa Varley, “and played it the right way and as hard as they could, won championships and did great things. I admire that”.
Over the past two seasons, he has played in 31 games and started nine, recording 48 tackles (including a number on special teams), two forced fumbles, and five and a half sacks, with one pass defensed. He is willing to do anything asked of him, but his competitiveness hungers for the opportunity to do more, especially as he grows into his body and into the system.
“I am real comfortable with the defense. I am comfortable with anything the coaches ask me to do”, he told the team’s website. “I have seen others do it, and I have done it myself. I just want to keep doing more. I love it. That is the competitor in all of us. When the coaches ask me to do something, the type of person I am, that is what I am going to do”.
While he believes in himself and his ability to contribute, he also believes in the group around him, saying that, “as a team, we have a lot of good people, a lot of good pieces coming back”. He hopes that they “continue to be a close knit group”.
The question is who will be in that group. James Harrison is already gone and Arthur Moats will shortly be a free agent. Keion Adams has been around the building but spent his rookie season on injured reserve. One or perhaps even two new players may well be added to the group this offseason.