A little bit of knowledge is dangerous to start camp, especially in a year where we can’t be in attendance to offer our own take. But just like his rookie camp, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III is turning heads. The crumbs of information we’ve gotten this season have spoke highly of UG3. He picked off a pass during Tuesday’s practice while breaking up another throw in LB/RB-TE drills yesterday.
It’s a carry over of traits he showed at Latrobe last season. After a bit of a quiet start, he became one of the camp stars. A top athlete, he was always around the football, made plays in coverage, and had the sideline to sideline speed to defend perimeter runs. Here’s what we wrote on him after camp, earning a stellar B+ grade.
“A great camp for one of the team’s 6th rounders. Maybe a bit of a quiet start but it quickly became evident he has the talent to get on the roster now and long-term, has the traits to play in this league. Rangy, competitive in coverage, and better processing and tackling than what I saw on his Akron tape.”
The positive press didn’t stop once the games began either. Albeit against backups, Gilbert III was excellent in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay. He recorded three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and picked off a two-point conversion, showing the awareness to get to his feet after going untouched. He spent the first half of the season on special teams, leading them team in snaps before a recurring back injury shelved the rest of his year.
I’ve been enamored with him throughout the offseason, more comfortable than most making him the team’s #3 ILB. But it wasn’t love at first sight. His Akron tape showed concerns. He was undersized, a slighter build, that translated into a weaker tackler who fell off contact too often. I’m not quite sure what’s changed since, maybe adding weight, playing with better technique and posture as a tackler, but I don’t see those concerns on tape anymore.
Asked about him, Tomlin said he considered Gilbert III to still be a rookie given his 2019 injury. That, of course, is true to an extent. He doesn’t have the playing time of Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, even the defensive snaps of Isaiah Buggs. The only way to get properly evaluated or learn from mistakes is to play, make those errors, and correct them. Still, his head isn’t swimming like a rookie. He knows the system, the coaches, his practice routine, and got more than a cup of coffee as a multi-phase special teamer. Night and day difference from a year ago. Now he can focus on everything between the white lines.
It’s high praise that’s of course subject to change once Gilbert logs snaps on defense, that may not be for awhile still, but he has the skillset to start. Linebackers these days must be good athletes to run with tight ends down the seam, defend the entire RB route tree that’s becoming more complex by the year, and I still don’t trust Keith Butler to not occasionally short-circuit and leave a LB on a WR. Gilbert can move in space, that’s not in dispute. Early evaluations on his processing, ball skills, and tackling indicate a well-rounded game.
With cap space being a precious commodity next season, Vince Williams may be an unfortunate cap casualty. Making it possible that as early as next season, Gilbert III may be the man lined up next to Devin Bush. That’d create a level of uncertainity but also the most athletic ILB duo the team has had in quite some time.