The Pittsburgh Steelers still decided to use a draft pick higher than they typically do on the inside linebacker position this year, in spite of the fact that they were able to retain everybody from the position that they entered the previous season with. That is barring Avery Williamson, who was acquired in-season via trade.
The new face is Buddy Johnson out of Texas A&M, brought in with their second of two fourth-round picks, but the highest selection used on a defensive player. And yet defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s advice to him was to mind not the linebackers coaches, but rather special teams coordinator Danny Smith.
“I think the best thing for Buddy to do right now is to make sure that he is invaluable as a special teams player”, he told reporters earlier today. “These young linebackers come into the league and they don’t understand that a big part of them making the team, especially if they’re a mid-round draft choice or something like that, them making the team is how well they do on special teams”.
“Danny Smith is going to have a big say in who we keep and who we don’t, so if I’m Buddy, I will make sure that I am invaluable as a special teams player”, he continued, “and then I’ll work from there in terms of trying to become a starting linebacker in this league. And then if he gets to that, we’ll we what we’ve got when we get to that point”.
This is all old hat for those of us who have been around the block before, of course. Outside of linemen, pretty much anybody who isn’t a high draft pick is going to be expected to carry their weight on special teams. The later you’re drafted, the more vulnerable you are to not being kept at all if you can’t.
While fourth-round picks more often than not do make the cut, they are not indispensable. Even the Steelers in 2015 entered that season without fourth-round pick Doran Grant on the 53.
The story may be different if the team were thin at the position, but they do have Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and Ulysees Gilbert III all back, and even added Miles Killebrew. That quantity is just another reason that Johnson had better mind his special teams assignments.
“Bud, our draft pick, we’ll have to see what Buddy can do”, Butler said. “He’s coming from college. This is a faster game than college is. It’s quicker, it happens faster. Everything happens faster. So Buddy’s gotta get used to that; gonna get used to that”.
He may also have to get used to being patient. He played for four years for the Aggies and was a regular presence on the field. He may have a hard time even getting a helmet to start out his career in Pittsburgh, and that’s assuming he indeed makes the 53-man roster right off the bat.