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: Depth
In the Mix: Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane, Leo Lewis
The Steelers recently waived rookie undrafted inside linebacker John Houston, a player that many seemed to feel was one of the more intriguing names among the college free agent pool this year. That leaves them with just five players at the position in total, along with six players at the inside linebacker position.
Of course, when you only have an 80-man roster to work with, the lines get slimmer, but the reality is that inside linebacker is a position in which the Steelers often end up keeping five players on the 53-man roster. And sometimes even an extra one on the practice squad. In fact, it’s very rare that they don’t have at least five in total.
Behind Devin Bush and Vince Williams in the starting lineup, the Steelers return two players who spent time on the 53-man roster a year ago in Ulysees Gilbert III, a 2019 sixth-round draft pick, and Robert Spillane, a former undrafted free agent who took his place on the roster last year after going on injured reserve.
At this point, both of them feel like a lock to make it, unless they end up bringing somebody in, which does strike me as a possibility. They have already signed veteran players at running back and safety since training camp opened.
If not, then Leo Lewis, an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State, will be the only player pushing Gilbert and Spillane for a roster spot. The 6’2”, 245-pounder had his most successful college season as a freshman. He had 65 tackles last year despite starting every game.
Since camp has opened, Vince Williams spoke highly of Gilbert and the progress he has made this offseason, though I don’t know if they have gotten any work in together during the extended break. As for Spillane, while he may have some defensive ability, his roster spot will be largely as a replacement for Tyler Matakevich, a special teamer who can rack up tackles.