The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. It ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense. Multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. Right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?
These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.
Question: How many linebackers will the Steelers keep on the 53-man roster?
When it comes to finalizing the 53-man roster, one of the first things I turn to every year is how many linebackers they’re going to carry. While it was an aberration back in 2014, the Steelers have gone with as few as seven to start the season. Alternatively, a couple of seasons ago, they had as many as 11 on the roster in total at one time.
This season, even with the retirement of Vince Williams and the losses of Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi in free agency, the Steelers do have enough rosterable linebackers to carry 11, if they really wanted to. That’s rather unlikely, but 10 is more than plausible.
At outside linebacker, you have T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram as locks. Devin Bush and Robert Spillane are your starting inside linebackers, and probably the only ‘hard’ locks, but fourth-round pick Buddy Johnson is the next best thing to one.
Then you have Cassius Marsh and rookie sixth-round pick Quincy Roche at outside linebacker. At least one of them is almost a lock to make it. Whether or not both will is a much bigger question. Inside, Ulysees Gilbert III has been on the roster for the past two years, if healthy. Marcus Allen and Miles Killebrew, the latter a free agent signing, and both former safeties, potentially offer flexibility in addition to special teams ability to make them attractive bottom-of-the-roster candidates. But will it be strictly either/or, or both?