The Pittsburgh Steelers lost two inside linebackers from their 2019 team during the offseason as Mark Barron was released and Tyler Matakevich signed with the Buffalo Bills as an unrestricted free agent. Their departures now set up a golden opportunity in 2020 for inside linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III to be the primary backup to Devin Bush and Vince Williams. On Tuesday, Bush held a video teleconference with the media and during it he was asked about Gilbert and if he thinks the Akron product can be more than just a special teams contributor in his second season.
“It’s up to Ulysees,” said Bush, according to Bob Labriola of steelers.com. “I think he’s a good player, really talented. I think he has all the tangibles and the athleticism to get out on the field and play, but it’s up to him to put it all together.”
Gilbert, who was selected by the Steelers in the sixth-round a year ago, turned a few heads during the 2019 preseason on both defense and special teams. He ultimately made the Steelers 53-man roster and appeared in seven of the team’s first eight regular season games as a backup linebacker and core special teams player. In his 150 total special teams snaps played before suffering a back injury that landed him on the team’s Reserve/Injured list in Week 10, Gilbert registered five total tackles.
In mid-April, Gilbert, who didn’t play any defensive snaps during his rookie season, said that his rehab is “coming along very well” despite the coronavirus pandemic interrupting his normal training and rehab routine. Can he be counted on to be the Steelers primary backup at inside linebacker in 2020? Time will certainly tell, and all eyes will be on him when and if training camp finally gets underway later this summer.
Other than Gilbert, the only other inside linebacker with NFL experience currently under contract is Robert Spillane, who spent a good portion of the 2019 season on the team’s practice squad. Like Gilbert, Spillane is expected to be a core special teams player in 2020. The only other inside linebackers currently under contract with the Steelers for the 2020 season are rookies Leo Lewis and John Houston Jr., both of whom were signed as undrafted free agents a little more than a week ago.
While Bush is seemingly taking a wait and see approach when it comes to one of his potential backups in 2020 in Gilbert, he made it clear on Tuesday that he and his fellow starter inside, Williams, are preparing themselves to play extensively this coming season.
“But if it comes down to me and Vince taking all the snaps, I don’t think we’ll have a problem doing it,” Bush said.