Outside of starting positions, one of the biggest question marks on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster this year is who is going to step up behind the team’s two starters at outside linebacker. With the release of Anthony Chickillo earlier this offseason, they have nobody with much of any experience behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.
The most ‘seasoned’ of the group is Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, a third-year former undrafted free agent out of Toledo who spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, and has logged 71 defensive snaps across 17 games played (including 62 snaps in 16 games during the 2019 season).
While that’s not much to go by, head coach Mike Tomlin liked what he has seen out of the young linebacker so far during training camp this year. “He showed up in great condition and ready to work and that’s always the first thing that you notice”, he said. “He’ll continue to write the story of his overall readiness through his performance, but so far so good”.
Tomlin on Ola impressions so far: “You know, he showed up in great condition and ready to work and that’s always the first thing that you notice. He’ll continue to write the story of his overall readiness through his performance, but so far so good.” #Steelers
— Steelers Depot 🏆👑 (@Steelersdepot) August 18, 2020
Through two seasons, playing primarily on special teams (he logged 222 snaps there last season), Adeniyi has nine tackles to his credit with two forced fumbles, both of which came on special teams play. The majority of his tackles have also come on special teams.
Health, however, has not been on his side. After an impressive rookie preseason in 2018, during which he recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles, he suffered an injury that left him on injured reserve for most of the year. Last season, he suffered an injury early in training camp that shut him down for most of that time until the start of the regular season, during which he played sparsely, even when Chickillo was briefly on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
The Steelers did make an investment in the outside linebacker position this year with the third-round selection of Alex Highsmith, who is coming off a productive senior season with Charlotte. Tomlin has been giving him a lot of work since the pads came on in an effort to accelerate his development.
While rookie Joe Lockhart is also on the 80-man roster, the other significant candidate in the race is Tuzar Skipper, who like Adeniyi was an undrafted free agent out of Toledo with a productive rookie preseason, in his case with five sacks and two forced fumbles a year ago.
At this point, Adeniyi and Highsmith are probably regarded as locks, with Skipper fighting (along with Lockhart) to convince the Steelers that they should keep a fifth edge rusher. Given that the team ordinarily keeps nine linebackers and the inside linebacker depth is very thin (only five in total, with rookie undrafted free agent Leo Lewis being the fifth), he stands a pretty good chance of making it.
But from the sounds of it, Adeniyi, the most experienced of the reserves, is currently in the driver’s seat to serve as the first off the bench. Provide that he has better injury luck this year, look for him to get his chance to step up.