The Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting 11 on defense can rival just about any other team in the NFL, something that couldn’t be said with a straight face for a number of years. You have three first-team All-Pros, and a number of growing players with Pro Bowl talent, such as Devin Bush, first and foremost, with a lot of guys who are in their prime.
That said, it’s fair to question their depth in certain areas, especially at inside linebacker and safety, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler just acknowledged this earlier today. Since last season, they have lost Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, Sean Davis, and Kameron Kelly at those two positions, and haven’t made much in the way of additions.
“Obviously, we have good players at those positions”, he said earlier today, referring to the starting lineup. “Do we want more good players? We’ll take all the good players that we can get. Do we need more good players at those positions? Yeah, I think we do”.
While they have Bush and Vince Williams in the starting lineup, their two projected inside linebacker reserves are Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane. The former has drawn a lot of buzz since being selected in the sixth round out of Akron in 2019, but the reality is neither of them have any defensive snaps.
At safety, they have added some pieces here, most notably a veteran free safety in Curtis Riley, signed since training camp opened. He has been attracting some attention lately. They also drafted Antoine Brooks in the sixth round in April. The rest of the depth behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds consists of Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen, and John Battle.
“I think our young guys have got to really come along in what they’re doing in camp”, Butler said, referring to guys like Gilbert and Allen and Brooks. “There’s a couple of guys showing up. We think they can help us. We’ll see as we go along”.
He admitted that that is tougher to do this year than normal without the Spring workouts and preseason drills. He noted that they are trying to put players in live situations during training camp as much as they are allowed, but it’s still difficult to tell if your players are playing well or the offense is playing poorly.
“In terms of being where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there”, he said, the young depth is doing reasonably well. But inside linebacker still really feels like an obvious area for targeting a veteran to add to the competition. They have brought in a number of players for workouts lately, but I don’t believe any have been at inside linebacker. The only other one on the roster is undrafted rookie Leo Lewis.