Coverage inside linebackers are the Pittsburgh Steelers’ new favorite thing, adding a number of them this offseason after coming upon the realization that they didn’t actually have any that they were comfortable with in 2018. That started with the signing of Mark Barron in free agency and ramped up with the drafting of Devin Bush, but it didn’t stop there, as they went back to the well in the sixth round with Ulysees Gilbert III.
As a quick aside before I go on, you can throw Robert Spillane in there if you want, too, since I already did a film room article on him in coverage from the first preseason game. But this one is about Gilbert in coverage last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Before we get too deep into that, though, I do want to take a look at one problem I see in Gilbert, which is a bit of roughness in his game against the run. He has some difficulty disengaging from blockers, which is one thing, but as you see on the play below, he doesn’t show the pursuit to cut off this run while unblocked.
There was no need for this carry to pick up five yards if he were more aggressive and took a narrower angle. This might seem like a nitpick in isolation, but it was a theme. He also spent some time hovering around piles rather than digging into them. But let’s get to his coverage snaps.
This is a play you’ve probably seen a few times already, but on this occasion we’re focusing on Gilbert. The Steelers have him isolated out of the slot, covering rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman. You don’t want to put linebackers on wide receivers too often, but it can work if they tail as Gilbert does here, especially with the safety coming in over the top.
At the end of the second quarter, Chad Henne was sacked on first and 10 from the 12 by Bud Dupree. While the outside linebacker won quickly and cleanly, Gilbert’s coverage of the tight end on a corner route took away and quick throwing option.
Late in the game, now into the fourth quarter, the rookie is in zone coverage on third and seven. As the tight end continues on up the seam, he is able to pass off his assignment cleanly and attacks the wide receiver underneath, already breaking on the ball before it’s thrown. In doing so, he’s able to make the tackle ahead of the chains and force a fourth down.
While I have Gilbert making the roster though, one thing that has to be considered is that his skillset is now largely redundant with Barron and Bush, two veterans who are going to consistently play over him. while he has logged a good amount of snaps on special teams, he can help his cause a lot by making a couple of plays in that phase of the game.