With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.
This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Up for Grabs: Sub-Package Role
In the Mix: Ulysees Gilbert III
This is essentially a one-man competition, at its essence, boiling down to whether or not he proves to justify the role. The Steelers are excited about the potential of Ulysees Gilbert III as the former sixth-round pick heads into his second season, after spending about half of it on injured reserve with a back injury.
The B-side to Pittsburgh’s two-fer with athletic inside linebackers during the 2019 NFL Draft, with the hit single being Devin Bush, Gilbert largely toiled in obscurity on practice squad duty during the regular season, even if he was able to make an impact in the preseason.
With the team letting go of Mark Barron, they were reverting to Vince Williams with the expectation that he will be a full-time starter who will be subbed out during certain passing situations, as has been the pattern in the past.
The question will be whether that will be exclusively with a sixth defensive back or if they will use Gilbert as a sub-package linebacker in certain situations, the way that they used L.J. Fort toward the end of the 2018 season with Williams and Jon Bostic were proving inadequate. In fact, there were times in which he replaced both of them as the only linebacker on the field in a dime defense.
Of course, Gilbert is not going to replace Bush for any snaps as part of a sub-package, so if he does play, it’s going to be with a mind toward keeping two inside linebackers on the field, but increasing their athletic range.
He has the athleticism to cover, but it will have to be tested as to whether or not he can be trusted to stand up to the level of competition he will face, or if they are just better off putting Cameron Sutton on the field—whether he covers in the box or they rotate Terrell Edmunds or another defensive back down.