The Pittsburgh Steelers are now in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College, where they have held their training camp sessions since 1966. While the vast majority of the legwork of building the 90-man roster is done, there is always some fine tinkering to do. Now it’s time to figure out who is worthy of a roster spot, and what their role will be.
The team made some bold moves this offseason and in some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago. That would especially be the case at wide receiver and inside linebacker, where they’re bound to have new starters.
How will those position groups sort themselves out? How will the young players advance into their expected roles? Will the new coaches be up to the task? Who is looking good in practice? Who is sitting out due to injury?
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: How can the Steelers fit 10 linebackers onto the roster?
By and large, the Steelers’ first preseason game seemed to tell us several things that we thought we might already know about this team’s 90-man roster. Among those things was a sense that they have legitimate depth at the linebacker positions, both inside and outside.
There are, I think, at least seven positions at linebacker that are already firmly locked into place. Those would consist of the top four outside positions—T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi—and the top three on the interior—Vince Williams, Devin Bush, and Mark Barron.
Fourth-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich would be heavily favored for an eighth roster spot as well due to the fact that he is a standout on special teams, and in an offseason in which they already lost several key contributors there. Yet he also continues to make plays defensively, including a strip sack last night showing a great move to beat the running back on a blitz.
It’s nice to have a level of comfort in that many linebackers. The dilemma is, there are more who showed up last night, especially rookies Ulysees Gilbert III inside and Tuzar Skipper outside, but first-year J.T. Jones is also in consideration as well. For the time being, sixth-round pick Sutton Smith is not in the picture.
Gilbert’s name showed up a bunch in the second half, and that technically included special teams as well, as he intercepted a two-point conversion pass. He recorded three tackles with a sack and a half, getting four pressures.
Skipper also did well for himself, recording a sack and four pressures, his of course coming while winning off the edge rather than blitzing through the middle.
Can the Steelers afford to keep Matakevich, Gilbert, and Skipper all, for 10 linebackers in total? They have carried that number before, but it would require them to shorten their numbers as offensive line, wide receiver, and/or in the secondary. They have depth in all of these areas and could realistically look to keep about 55 or 56 players.