At least for the time being, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear set to carry just four true inside linebackers among the 67 players who are currently a part of their organization—encompassing their 53-man roster and the 14 players who have thus far been named to their 16-man practice squad, with the two final names yet to be announced, one expected to be quarterback Devlin Hodges.
The team only entered training camp with six inside linebackers, with is still a low figure for the offseason, and then waived the two rookie college free agent linebackers they picked up along the way, first being John Houston and then Leo Lewis. For the home stretch of camp, they operated with just four inside linebackers, taking that as an opportunity to feed snaps to safety Marcus Allen, who I will remind is not a linebacker.
There have certainly been times that the Steelers have gone into a season with fewer than five inside linebackers on their 53-man roster. It has become the norm for them to have five more often than not, but they have done it. It is very uncommon, possibly unheard of under Mike Tomlin, for them to have only four within the entire organization, including the practice squad.
With the exception of the 2017 season, the Steelers have consistently carried five inside linebackers on their 53-man roster for years. Last year, they added Devin Bush and Mark Barron and Ulysees Gilbert III (replaced by Robert Spillane) to Vince Williams and Tyler Matakevich. The year before that, they had Jon Bostic, Matthew Thomas, and L.J. Fort was still around, in addition to Williams and Matakevich.
The trio of Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, and Williams was solid for several years, often paired with Terence Garvin for a two-year stretch, Fort, Matakevich, and Sean Spence sprinkled in. Back in the James Farrior and Larry Foote days, they had Timmons in the early part of his career, and guys like Keyaron Fox and Stevenson Sylvester.
Now they have Bush and Williams as their starters, with Gilbert and Spillane as their backups, the latter two having no defensive playing experience. And then nobody. Only Allen, who is not a true linebacker and I can’t imagine would ever be in a position in which he would be asked to start due to injury.
With a total of 69 players available to them, in fact, the Steelers only have nine linebackers in total, which is unquestionably on the low side for them. They pretty routinely have at least 10, sometimes even 11, between the 53-man roster and practice squad. Jayrone Elliott is the only outside linebacker or linebacker of any kind currently on the practice squad.
I would find it very surprising if at some point in the relatively near future the Steelers did not find some inside linebacker to put on their practice squad. There is still an as-yet-unaccounted for open spot. It’s incredibly rare that they fail to add at least one outside player to the squad as well, even under these circumstances. Here’s to hoping they can find somebody to add to the depth at this position, beyond Allen.