The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a lot from their outside linebacker depth chart since last season, with Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi leaving in free agency. They also opted not to retain Jayrone Elliott, who has spent parts of the past two seasons on the 53-man roster, leaving them with T.J. Watt and 2020 third-round pick Alex Highsmith as their nucleus.
While they did bring back Cassius Marsh as well, the Steelers knew entering training camp that this was still an area that they wanted to upgrade, and they managed to do that with the signing of Melvin Ingram, a former Pro Bowler. But defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows there are other guys in the room as well.
“Roche is still going to come on. He’s still a rookie. And we’re not forgetting about him either”, he told reporters while speaking after practice on Friday. “We’ve got some pretty good outside guys, we feel like, but they’ve still got a lot to learn”.
That shouldn’t be a surprise just days into training camp, but that’s the same place Highsmith was in a year ago, and he was able to catch up fast enough to be able to contribute as a rookie. That’s something Butler is hoping to see from the likes of Roche.
“The reason Alex was as successful as he was is because he learned quickly, and we were confident enough to put him in there and let him play”, he said. “We like the competition level of what we got, and we’ll see what happens when we get in the preseason. The best thing about this year is we’ve got three preseason games where we can evaluate people. Last year, we didn’t have that. So, it’s going to be good for us to get that evaluation and make sure we’re right on the outside”.
That’s certainly a big advantage over a year ago. The preseason, of course, was eliminated for the 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached over mutual agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, seen as an event that takes an unnecessary risk in preparing for the season.
The Steelers will play four preseason games this year, which means that Roche should have the opportunity to get plenty of work. Watt probably isn’t going to play many snaps, if he plays at all, and you have to wonder how many snaps a veteran like Ingram will play. They’ll want to get a long look at their draft pick, as well, and see that he gets every opportunity to earn his way onto the 53-man roster. Following Highsmith’s path would be a good way to do it.