2021 Offseason Questions: Who Opens Season As Top Backup ILB?

Ulysees Gilbert III

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: Who opens the season as the top backup inside linebacker with Vince Williams retiring?

Vince Williams retired on Wednesday after eight seasons. After previously being released and then re-signing on a minimum-value contract, he chose to call it a career on the eve of training camp.

It was taken as a given that Williams, who has started several dozen games, would serve as the primary backup inside linebacker behind Devin Bush and Robert Spillane. With him off of the roster, though, that creates a new competition: who will be the first linebacker off the bench, now?

No doubt Buddy Johnson will be a popular pick, but rookies are always hard to predict. The fourth-rounder out of Texas A&M is certainly a contender, but not the only one. Ulysees Gilbert III is a guy who has played in the past, but injuries have greatly limited his opportunities. If healthy, he has to be a factor.

These are obviously the two most realistic candidates, with Marcus Allen and Miles Killebrew rounding out the group. Killebrew is more of a special teams player, however. Both are former safeties, on top of that. Tergray Scales and Jarvis Miller are the only other inside linebackers on the roster, at least at the time of this writing.

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