Following the moving of Anthony Chickillo to the Commissioner’s Exempt List and a minor injury leaving the status of T.J. Watt up in the air for the time being, the Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly in murky waters at the outside linebacker position. Bud Dupree is their most experienced player, and has been playing some of the best football of his career, but he my be lining up across from quite the opposite on Monday.
Since Chickillo is no longer available, it would be Olasunkanmi Adeniyi to start in Watt’s place if he is unable to go. Though he is technically a second-year player, head coach Mike Tomlin has said that he views him as a first-year guy. Adeniyi spent most of his rookie season on the Reserve/Injured List and only played a handful of snaps in one game once he did return.
Even this year, his playing opportunities have continued to be sparse at best. But with Watt sidelined and Chickillo no longer available, the young player is getting more work on the field, with the first-team defense, than he ever has before. And he’s prepared if he gets his opportunity.
“My goal coming into this year was just to try to stand out on special teams, knowing the guys in front of me”, Adeniyi said in understanding his position relative to Watt, Dupree, and Chickillo on the depth chart, via Mike Prisuta from the team’s website. “If my number’s called on Monday, then I’ll be ready to play”.
He hasn’t been called upon much. While he has actually logged some time on defense in every game since Week Two, he has only seen double-digit snaps in three of those games, and never more than 11. To date, he has played 38 snaps on defense, including just three in the Steelers’ last game, a victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s fair to wonder if he would have played at all had Chickillo not gotten injured and missed a few games.
If Watt is down, or even limited, however, then this is a huge opportunity for Adeniyi at an early stage of his career. He has done about as much as he can during the offseason to show the coaches that he deserves a chance to earn a role in the defense. Now he simply needs to get it.
“Whenever my number’s called, I’m ready”, he said. And he is making full use of his opportunities in practice this week while Watt works in individual drills. “That’s the whole point of practice, to get acclimated to the gameplan. I feel like I’ve built myself and I’m ready for it”.
He’d better be, because the Steelers can’t afford any slips at this stage of the season, sitting at 2-4 and able to come out of the week no better than two games back in the division, with a loss in-hand to the division leader.