Even for as relatively insignificant a preseason victory is, the Pittsburgh Steelers got very little opportunity to enjoy the feeling of their takedown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the untimely passing of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake on Sunday morning.
Tuesday morning was the first time that the team addressed the media directly since game day, though, and there was business to talk about, as the game doesn’t stop for the passing of a single individual. During his press conference, Tomlin was asked his feelings on the linebacker position, where it appeared that several players stepped up in some capacity or another.
“There’s a lot of guys playing well”, he acknowledged, “but as I mentioned earlier, against various levels of competition”. That would point toward especially rookie sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III, who had a very good game, but his plays, as Tomlin said, came between snaps 80 to 89 defensively, meaning that he was playing against a lower level of competition.
From that perspective, he cautioned reading too much into the performance, tempering expectations, but said that such performance do have a ripple effect, and he and others such as Tuzar Skipper should see the benefit of that on Saturday.
“Those that have performed well in the groups that they were running with, maybe this week they get an opportunity to see if they can sustain that level of performance against stiffer competition”, Tomlin said.
“That’s what I mean when I say that we’re gonna get more deliberate in terms of the situations that we put people in based on some things that we learned from in-stadium action, just to see if this is real, just to challenge people, just to continue to gather information about what’s appropriate in terms of developing 53”.
Gilbert has not had many opportunities to get quality reps while generally playing behind Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Devin Bush, and Tyler Matakevich, primarily seeing third-team work alongside the likes of Robert Spillane (who also had his moments in the game) and Tegray Scales.
Skipper and J.T. Jones among the edge defenders also performed well, but considering that the two starting outside linebackers did not even dress in the preseason opener—Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi started the game—it’s hard to envision their being able to enter the next game earlier than they already have. Perhaps Chickillo, who is more established, could get some time off to allow Skipper or Jones to work with the second-team unit.
Among those who have taken the greatest advantage of the opportunities for upward mobility that training camp and the preseason provides is first-year safety Kameron Kelly, who has been running as the starting free safety for most of the summer with Sean Davis injured. Thanks to that, he has put himself in very good position to make the 53-man roster.