The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will keep 10 linebackers if Ulysees Gilbert III is able to push his case enough on special teams in the preseason.
Explanation: The Steelers, and basically all teams, don’t draft players whom they don’t think have a chance to make their team. Ulysees Gilbert III was drafted. The team often keeps five inside linebackers. He could be the fifth.
They didn’t just draft Gilbert because he’s an inside linebacker. They drafted him because he is the certain type of inside linebacker that they were looking for, a rangy, coverage-adept weapon who can play sideline to sideline, and he has given some indications so far through the early portions of training camp that he can be that sort of player.
It just so happens that those same qualities frequently translate well to being good at special teams. While Tyler Matakevich is the ‘special teams linebacker’, they often have multiple depth players there who do the job, and they already lost L.J. Fort. Plus Mark Barron is probably not going to play there.
Another thing that could actually help Gilbert is if Olasunkanmi Adeniyi doesn’t really show up on special teams. As long as he continues to do what he’s currently doing he’s not really at any risk of failing to make the roster, but they won’t play him on special teams if he doesn’t show to be an asset, and that would make them more likely to carry another linebacker for special teams.
Even though Gilbert is of the model at the position that they are looking for, the reality is that he is far off from ever seeing the field behind Devin Bush and Barron, so it really doesn’t matter if he’s flashing around on defense. It really comes down to special teams.
And roster spots. Does anybody really see the Steelers carrying fewer than 10 defensive backs? They might even carry 11 if both Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton at cornerback and Kameron Kelly at safety push. Six wide receivers and nine offensive linemen also sound more realistic with this roster makeup than 10 linebackers.
Gilbert’s best chance to make the team is to outplay the likes of Sutton Smith and Tuzar Skipper at outside linebacker, resulting in them only carrying four there. And in this case, it would help him if Adeniyi is good on special teams, making it less likely for them to carry a fifth for that purpose.