The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is outside linebacker being undersold as a primary need?
In spite of the fact that the Steelers added starting players at inside linebacker and cornerback this offseason in Mark Barron and Steven Nelson, these two positions are often cited as the biggest ‘needs’ for the team and among the most frequently cited for mock drafts in the first round.
Pittsburgh has a starter at outside linebacker across from T.J. Watt, that being fifth-year former first-round draft pick Bud Dupree. But conventional wisdom suggests that he is likely not going to be with the team beyond this season.
There’s a fair chance that his top backup, Anthony Chickillo, is not back next season either based on his salary cap hit for 2020 and the very real fact that he doesn’t possess the skills to be an above average starter…or really possibly an average starter.
So, outside of Watt, the Steelers really don’t have anything in the ballpark of a sure thing for 2020 at the outside linebacker position. That strikes me as kind of a big deal. In contrast, at least Barron is under contract for the next two seasons.
The more I ponder this question as we get closer and closer to the draft, the more my thoughts turn toward the outside linebacker position as that of the greatest concern. Many wanted the Steelers to release Dupree anyway.
The bottom line is this: the Steelers are going to be in a tight spot in 2020 at outside linebacker. They’re going to have to decide if Dupree is worth retaining and at what price point. They’re going to have to decide the same for Chickillo while getting a look at Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
It sure would be nice to add a potential blue-chip player into that mix before the team gets to that point. They have been able to generate pressure with the current configuration, but nothing beats two strong book-end pass rushers, especially in those critical situations