The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Ulysees Gilbert III will make his defensive debut today and have a consistent sub-package presence over the course of the season.
Explanation: Due to the season-ending knee injury suffered by Devin Bush, the Steelers are working on replacing him in the lineup. Robert Spillane will be the player called upon primarily in filling that role, but Mike Tomlin also made it clear that they did not view it as a one-man job.
I’ll admit that it’s hard to justify being positive about this while explaining away the fact that the team hasn’t even been dressing him, but it won’t be the first time something like this has happened. Sometimes your backup isn’t your best option to dress unless he has to be on the field. Chukwuma Okorafor was only active for one game last season, and that was to start.
The Steelers decided that Spillane and Marcus Allen and James Pierre offered more on special teams than did Gilbert. All three of those guys have been playing well in that phase this season, so it looks like they were right, and they must have seen this in training camp, which we couldn’t access this year.
But that doesn’t mean that, now that he’ll be getting a regular helmet, he won’t emerge as a defensive contributor. We did see what he did in training camp and the preseason last year. The guy can play, and there were expectations for him this year. Spillane may be the top guy, but Gilbert will contribute. They need to replace Bush’s speed somehow, and it won’t be with the Western Michigan product.
We are talking about a guy who has been a healthy scratch for most of the season. This is clearly a case of the fans having a higher opinion about a player than the coaches clearly do, because that’s the only way to explain why he hasn’t been the team’s top backup inside linebacker ahead of Spillane in the first place.
Remember, the team has also been dressing Marcus Allen over him. If they want some range in their linebacker play, they’re going to use the converted safety. He might not be fast for a defensive back, but he sure is for a linebacker. Gilbert will get some snaps here and there, perhaps even today, but it won’t be a set look that can be counted upon to appear consistently.