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: Ulysees Gilbert’s is unlikely to have a defensive role this season with the offseason continually shrinking.
Explanation: When the Steelers released Mark Barron, returning Vince Williams to the starting lineup, many saw that as a window of opportunity for the athletic second-year linebacker to carve out a niche role for himself, but with a truncated preseason, and impending training camp limitations, it’s a tough sell.
Young players without pedigree, from small schools, don’t play unless that extensively show the coaching staff that they deserve the opportunity. Gilbert had a nice preseason last year, but still only played on special teams. He ended the year with a back injury, so he still missed valuable developmental time.
He also spent a good portion of this offseason recovering from said injury. Now he’s had no in-person developmental time, and there won’t be much time to grow once teams do report and work together. There will be limitations in even how that is done.
The simpler and less risky option is for the team to simply use the dime defense, taking a linebacker of the field, when they don’t want Williams out there. Cameron Sutton is a fourth-year veteran with hundreds of snaps, some tangible successes, and even some starts.
If they managed to find some playing time (even if not much) for Terence Garvin and Matthew Thomas as rookie undrafted free agents in the relatively recent past, then there is the strong possibility that Gilbert, who is more talented than either and showed better preseason tape last year, could find his way onto the defense in select situations this year.
One role could be a passing defense when they want a more athletic linebacker on the field, to cover a tight end for example. He could be used in goal-line defense, whose personnel have varied over the years but which has included as many as six linebackers.
He still has training camp and a couple of preseason games. If he looks the way he did last year, that’s enough for the coaches to see. It doesn’t matter where he played in college or where he was drafted if he’s doing it in front of their faces.