The Pittsburgh Steelers worked to insulate themselves this offseason by bringing in players at tight end, defensive end, fullback, and the offensive line early in the offseason. They were able to add a few more veteran players at safety, quarterback, running back, and outside linebacker since players got back on the field, allowing them to feel more comfortable with their depth.
Seemingly the only position that they managed to avoid addressing in any meaningful way this offseason was inside linebacker, the position where they lost two players, including a starter, since last season, releasing Mark Barron as a cap casualty and allowing Tyler Matakevich to leave in free agency.
With Devin Bush and Vince Williams in the starting lineup, second-year players Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane, a sixth-rounder and former college free agent, respectively, remained the only reserves, neither of whom played more than half a season or saw a defensive snap.
And then in training camp they moved safety Marcus Allen into the group at linebacker. While still listed as a safety on the team’s roster, which is less-frequently updated, he is listed only as an inside linebacker on the depth chart—and defensive coordinator Keith Butler spoke about him when talking about the inside linebacker depth on Thursday.
“I think they are growing as we talk. They still have some growing to do”, the veteran defensive coordinator acknowledged about the young group of players he has behind his starters—one of whom is the youngest of them all in Bush. “Hopefully, our guys and the guys in front of them, I think they are going to be pretty good. I think they will do a good job for us”.
Butler also acknowledged that Allen’s move to ‘linebacker’ isn’t entirely a coincidence. “We have to play some DBs because of what is happening with the game today”, he told reporters. “The inside linebacker has almost become obsolete but he’s not quite yet. Your guys that you are playing with at inside linebacker now have to be pretty good athletes and if they can do that, they will be okay”.
“Our guys, I think they are going to be okay”, he added, noting Gilbert and Allen specifically. “I think they are going to help us as the season goes along. I think they will grow into the position”.
Gilbert was a sixth-round pick out of Akron last year who made the roster with his strong play in the preseason. Allen was drafted as a safety out of Penn State in 2018. He spent his rookie year on the roster, playing very sparingly, but ended up mostly on the practice squad a year ago until Kameron Kelly was waived following his arrest.
Now he’s found a sort of second life as a hybrid, tweener player. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether they call him a safety or a linebacker. As general manager Kevin Colbert said of Antoine Brooks after drafting him in April, “he’s half a safety, half a linebacker”. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.