For some dumbass reason, it never occurred to me to take a look at the defensive side of the ball when I was writing about Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington being named to Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for the first week of the preseason.
As Alex Kozora hinted at, I ended up missing quite a bit, because a full four of the 11 players named to the Team of the Week on the defensive side of the ball were made up of members of the Steelers. Not just undrafted first-year player Henry Mondeaux along the defensive line, but also rookie draft pick Isaiah Buggs at the same position. Rookie linebackers Tuzar Skipper and Ulysees Gilbert III were also acknowledged as being among the best at their positions this past week.
Gordon McGuinness provided some of the highlights for each player. Of Mondeaux, he noted that he won his one-on-one battle in passing situations seven times (though that doesn’t mean that he recorded seven pressures). Buggs was noted for drawing two holding penalties with his tenacity, and credited as beating his blocker three times.
Skipper was one of my favorite players to watch in the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the rookie undrafted free agent—rookie minicamp invitee, even—was noted for registering a sack in addition the three more hits on the quarterback for his efforts. He certainly put his name in the mix for a roster spot, though he’ll have to earn it on special teams.
And his most direct competition right now is Gilbert, even though the former is an outside linebacker and the latter an inside linebacker. Gilbert picked up five total pressures rushing the passer, including two sacks (officially, a sack and a half) and two other hits, doing that on just 12 pass-rush snaps.
That’s three rookies, including two draft picks, and a first-year player in Mondeaux, who was invited to the Steelers’ rookie minicamp along with Skipper and came out with a contract (as did quarterback Devlin Hodges and tackle Damian Prince, both rookies).
What does this mean? Technically speaking, none of these players are guaranteed to make the 53-man roster, though Buggs and now Gilbert both have an excellent shot. Buggs will find an easier time finding opportunities to contribute, but Gilbert will be behind a trio of starters at inside linebacker.