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2021 Pre-Training Camp Roster Review: Outside Linebacker

Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt

The last time that we took a look back at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in review, it was weeks before the 2021 NFL Draft took place. It would be safe to say that quite a bit has changed since then, and the changes apply to almost every position on the roster, some major changes, some minor, though some have remained largely static.

We are closing in on the opening of the Steelers’ several weeks of training camp, this time back at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, so it would be a good time to pause and take stock of where the team stands at each position as we head into the most critical process of the offseason.

Position: Outside Linebacker

Total Positional Figure: 8

Additions: 4

Deletions: 3

Players Retained:

T.J. Watt: Watt has recorded 13 sacks in three consecutive seasons, a rare feat in NFL history, leading the league with 15 last year and finishing as runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Still plenty young, and plenty hungry, there’s no reason to expect anything but continued excellence from him.

Alex Highsmith: Entering his second season, there is a lot on Highsmith’s shoulders. He is being asked to replace Bud Dupree in the starting lineup, which he had a chance to do due to injury for five games at the end of last season. He has some advanced understanding of the nature of the position, but has plenty of room to perfect his craft and get the most out of his body, starting with adding strength.

Cassius Marsh: Marsh is the only other edge defender returning from last season, and he only spent a few games on the roster. A veteran journeyman, he may well be the Steelers’ number three at the position, barring a young player stepping up.

Christian Kuntz: Primarily a long snapper, Kuntz’s background on defense is on the edge. He only appears here for completion’s sake.

Players Added:

Quincy Roche: A sixth-round pick, Roche is believed by many to have been one of the best value picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. While not an elite athlete, he, like Highsmith, puts a lot into his understanding of his position and the game. But his first focus must be on special teams.

Jamir Jones: Signed as a first-year player out of Notre Dame after working out at the school’s Pro Day, he spent most of his college career as a special-teamer.

Jamar Watson: Watson was among the college free agents the Steelers signed after the draft. Coming out of Kentucky, he recorded 18.5 collegiate sacks, but would have to have a great preseason to push for a roster spot.

Calvin Bundage: Bundage is a versatile linebacker who can play inside and outside. Coming out of Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh signed him as a college free agent after the draft.

Players Lost: 

Bud Dupree: A six-year veteran, Dupree played at a Pro Bowl level over the course of the last two seasons. He was well on his way to another double-digit-sack season in 2020 before suffering a torn ACL. He signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency.

Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: After the Steelers failed to offer him a restricted free agent tender, Adeniyi signed with the Titans as well. He never lived up to the promise of his rookie preseason, even though he was undrafted.

Jayrone Elliott: Elliott is a journeyman who has spent small portions of the past two seasons on the Steelers’ roster when they have been in need of depth. He did play over 100 snaps on special teams last year. He remains unsigned as of this writing.

Notes and Camp Outlook: 

There isn’t more of a sure thing on the edge in the league than Watt, but the Steelers have lots of questions everywhere else in the room. While Highsmith showed a lot of promise as a rookie, he has to be that much better this year to even do an adequate job of being a full-time starter, let alone a positive contributor and difference-maker.

Then there’s the depth. Where is it? Marsh has weaknesses in his game—notably in run support. Roche has promise, but you would be a fool to put your hopes in a rookie sixth-round pick to be a definite offensive or defensive contributor. The rest of the candidates are dart throws, for now. This is a prime area that the Steelers might target if they hope to bring in veteran depth before the regular season begins.

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