Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Ulysees Gilbert III proving capable of handling inside linebacker depth
Outside of the back injury that deprived him of more than half of his rookie season, limiting him to just seven games of special teams snaps, there is nothing that we have seen out of Akron inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III that indicates he should prove to be a capable player in the NFL.
After showing well in training camp as a rookie last year, he continued to perform during the preseason, earning a spot on the 53-man roster as a ninth, and eventually 10th, linebacker. While he failed to log any defensive snaps, he was on the bottom of the depth chart.
With Mark Barron and Tyler Matakevich both gone, and nobody to replace them, the Steelers are showing their confidence in both Gilbert and Robert Spillane to step up and serve as the backups to Devin Bush and Vince Williams this season. The only other inside linebacker who is even on the roster is rookie college free agent Leo Lewis.
So far, so good for Gilbert, however, as Mike Tomlin has complimented his play so far through the early portions of the padded practices at Heinz Field. There will be no preseason to cut his teeth, but the team has already seen him inside of a stadium setting, so he is not a complete unknown.
The main knock against Gilbert is the fact that he came out of Akron and was a sixth-round pick. Since he has been in practices with the Steelers, however, you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. There is a reason that the team has been calm this offseason in losing a lot of their depth at the linebacker spot, and he is the main reason for that. But now it’s up to him to prove them right.