2020 Offseason Questions: Will Ulysees Gilbert Have A Defensive Role?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will Ulysees Gilbert III be given a defensive role in his second season?

While Tyler Matakevich had already by and large been phased out of the Steelers’ defensive plans, the release of Mark Barron took a lot of snaps from last season out of the locker room. The majority of those snaps will be absorbed by Vince Williams as he returns to a full-time starting role.

But what about the rest? That’s one of the questions the Steelers will have to try to answer this offseason, if they have the time. Williams should be safe to play on running downs, but in obvious passing situations, they were still taking him off the field in 2018 and 2017. L.J. Fort played some in his stead in such situations in 2018.

Will Gilbert take on those snaps in 2020, as he moves into his second year? A 2019 sixth-round draft pick, he was limited to seven games as a rookie due to a back injury, but he accumulated about 150 snaps on special teams.

Only Devin Bush and Williams have experience playing defense in a regular season game on the Steelers’ roster now. Their other primary backup inside linebacker is Robert Spillane, who was the one who replaced Gilbert on special teams after he went on injured reserve.

Pittsburgh did not sign a replacement veteran in free agency. They also didn’t draft a true inside linebacker, though they did draft Antoine Brooks in the sixth round, whom Kevin Colbert described as half linebacker, half safety.

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