The normally optimistic Mike Tomlin was blunt in his assessment of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker depth, heightened given Anthony Chickillo’s uncertain future with the team.
“I’m not feeling great,” he said at his Tuesday press conference.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for any Ola Adeniyi fans out there.
Tomlin chalked that uneasy feeling up to the nature of the game.
“Such is life, you know, in the National Football League. At times, man, you’re gonna be challenged in certain ways positionally. I didn’t feel great about our running back depth last week. It’s part of team and it’s part of this journey and it’s part of the process. We’ll make do.”
Adeniyi has logged just 39 snaps this season, five fewer than Chickillo despite Chickillo missing several games with a foot injury. While he hasn’t made a significant impact as a pass rusher, though again, there haven’t been many chances, his run defense has been steady and he hasn’t looked lost when functioning as the team’s top backup.
Despite many of us on the outside signing Adeniyi’s praises since arriving on scene as a UDFA last year, the Steelers have always seemed to downplay his ability and willingness to get him involved. It goes back to comments Tomlin made early during training camp, still considering Adeniyi a rookie after missing most of 2018 with a hamstring injury. Pittsburgh placed him on IR right before the season and though he was recalled off it, only played nine defensive snaps as a rookie.
“I don’t view this as his second year,” Tomlin told reporters in early August. “He didn’t play enough. You know, he’s done some nice things here and displayed growth and development…but he doesn’t have enough play experience, on-field playing experience, for that to be a real asset to him. I think he’s preparing with that in mind.”
Adeniyi then missed the latter half of the preseason in 2019 with a minor knee injury.
Regardless of how Tomlin feels, there’s no choice but to rotate Adeniyi in. But as the team did when Chickillo was shelved with injury, they may opt to play Bud Dupree and TJ Watt as much as possible. In Week 3, Dupree played 95% of the snaps. Watt came in at 91%. Two weeks later, Dupree hardly came off the field, logging 96% of the snaps while Watt wasn’t far behind at 88%. In those games, Adeniyi saw roughly only 10-12 snaps.
If they take a similar approach with the defensive line where depth is clearly an issue without Stephon Tuitt, there’s a real concern about wearing down their front seven which will only hurt them late in games and late in the season.