For a year that has been as tumultuous as it has been for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there does seem to be a fair bit of optimism in the air, at least within certain segments of the fanbase. There are young players that people are excited about, and underdogs to root for, and that’s always good for the attention span.
One of those young up-and-coming players would be Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, or Ola, as he’s typically referred as. The second-year outside linebacker was a college free agent rookie out of Toledo in 2018, emerging onto the scene with a three-sack preseason that got him onto the 53-man roster…for a short period of time.
After suffering an injury in the preseason finale, Adeniyi was kept on the initial 53-man roster so that he couple be placed on the Reserve/Injured List with the ability to be eligible to be Designated for Return. He spent most of the year there, only being activated in the final weeks, and played very little.
But the coaching staff has been excited about his second-year development, which defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about with Tim Benz on his Breakfast With Benz podcast via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday.
“Ola has come along for us. He’s learned. He’s not a dumb guy”, the veteran defensive coach—and also outside linebackers coach—told the beat writer. “He listens to what’s going on, he tries to do what we ask him to do”.
“I think he’s going to help us in terms of depth and stuff like that”, he added, “but what he’s got to do is he’s got to be a good special teams player for us. A guy who’s not a starter at outside linebacker’s got a play special teams. I think if you would ask him, he would know that he’s got to improve on special teams and stuff like that for him to be a part of our team and making the team”.
Now, I think it’s pretty unlikely, even unrealistic, to suggest that he needs to perform at a high level on special teams in order for him to make the 53-man roster. He is clearly one of the top four players at the outside linebacker position, with the other options behind him being only rookies Tuzar Skipper and Sutton Smith.
But of course he’ll be asked to play special teams. More realistically, his special teams contributions will be the ticket to playing time, not a roster spot. And Butler did say he expects to see that growth. “I think he’s capable of doing it. Because he showed me that he can improve at outside linebacker, so he should be able to do it playing special teams also”.
Adeniyi did record a tackle on special teams in the preseason opener, so there is that. Truth be told, he had his moments in the game defensively—he started with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree not playing—but I’m hoping to see a strong performance on Saturday.