It can be argued that the one area of the roster in which the Pittsburgh Steelers are thin that the team did not address with anything more than a rookie undrafted free agent is the inside linebacker position, this after losing a starter in Mark Barron and a veteran depth player in Tyler Matakevich earlier in the offseason.
While they are comfortable with their projected starters in Devin Bush, last year’s 10th-overall pick moving into his second season, and veteran Vince Williams, who took a back seat to Barron last year but was an 800-snap player in the two previous years, the guys behind them having played a defensive snap.
That would be 2019 sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III, who was tracking to play over 300 snaps on special teams before a back injury landed him on injured reserve after seven games, and Robert Spillane, a former undrafted free agent who replaced Gilbert on the roster and on special teams.
While speaking to WDVE yesterday, general manager Kevin Colbert was asked about the inside linebacker depth, and one name that he kept bringing up with sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks, Jr. He was asked about Barron remaining available, and allowed that they’ll “leave all of those options open”, but it was Brooks who was his focus.
“In Antoine Brooks you really get a guy who could play some of that package football”, he said. “After the draft, we said he’s half of a linebacker and half a safety because in today’s game, that player, that position is much like the nickel corner that Mike Hilton plays. They’ve emerged into maybe the 12th and 13th starters, package-wise. There’s different combinations that we’d like to have, and a guy like Antoine Brooks can maybe fill some of those wants that we have for those defensive packages”.
Depending on the year, it would probably be more accurate to say the nickel is the 11th starter, a nose tackle your 12th, and your dimebacker the 13th, though in some years your sixth defensive back could be on the field more than your nose tackle.
Right now, the Steelers don’t have any solid, concrete options for either their nose tackle or their dimebacker, at least for somebody who would play up in the box. Cameron Sutton can pull off the coverage aspects of the sixth defensive back, but he’s not big enough to play the run at the second level.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers approach things this year in terms of their personnel with the lose of Javon Hargrave, as it could encourage them to spend more time in nickel and dime packages. The progression of players like Brooks and others will have a part to play in that.