The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Second-year Ulysees Gilbert III will be ready to be the top backup at inside linebacker this year.
Explanation: Unless something changes between now and the start of the regular season, the Steelers only have Gilbert and Robert Spillane behind their starting inside linebackers, and both are similarly inexperienced. Gilbert was a sixth-round pick last year and was on the initial roster, while Spillane replaced him after he was injured. Mark Barron, a starter last year, was released in a cap saving move this offseason, while Tyler Matakevich signed elsewhere in free agency.
He is young, and he lacks pedigree, and he was from Akron. But the dude can play. Gilbert put out strong tape on defense during the preseason that showed exactly why the Steelers were interested in drafting him, as he has a skill set that fits what they are looking to do on defense.
Specifically, while he is capable of playing the run, where he really excels is playing in space, and working in coverage. Arguably his highlight play of the preseason was his interception of a two-point conversion pass in an athletic display.
Granted, he played at Michigan, but the fact is Devin Bush came in and played right away because he was a heady athlete. Gilbert is a heady athlete too. With a year under his belt, he should be ready.
We really should know by now not to oversell strong preseason tape. How many good preseason games has Matakevich had over the years? or Jordan Dangerfield? Being the best third-stringer on the field, or even second-stringer, doesn’t mean you can step up and not be lost if you had to play in a real game.
Gilbert may be able to match Bush’s athleticism, but he’s been playing against Akron’s schedule, not Michigan’s. and he didn’t have the same responsibilities Bush had that prepared him to be an immediate contributor in the NFL.
Veteran linebackers should be a dime a dozen after the draft. Expect the Steelers to add one of them at that point.