The AFC North has seen a lot of swapping out of pass rushers this offseason, some of those moves coming very late on. The Cincinnati Bengals let Carl Lawson go, but signed Trey Hendrickson. The Cleveland Browns brought in Jadeveon Clowney, but parted with Olivier Vernon. The Baltimore Ravens just signed Justin Houston today, after having lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in the spring.
In between them was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ addition of Melvin Ingram, perhaps the most unlikely of the four, which only came after the team parted ways with David DeCastro in June and thus saved significant cap space.
While he wasn’t necessarily brought in to start, with second-year Alex Highsmith primed for that role, he does address a major depth concern following the losses of Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi this offseason. Ingram himself is a former first-round pick and a three-time Pro Bowler, even if he is in the late stages of his career.
And head coach Mike Tomlin sees a man who came in as advertised so far. “He knows how to play”, he said after practice. “He’s a veteran. You feel his veteran presence. You see the thoughtfulness in his skills relative to his position. He looks like a guy that’s done this for a while”.
From almost the moment of the signing—a one-year, $4 million contract—there has been discussion over whether or not he would push Highsmith out of the starting lineup, but the former third-round pick has come into training camp with his hair on fire, doing everything he can to make sure that the coaches can’t take him off the field.
But it is invaluable to have three quality pass rushers on any defense, not just for insulation against injury, but also to have some semblance of a rotation that doesn’t result in a significant drop-off in the level of quality, while helping to keep everybody fresh.
Ingram brings along 49 career sacks in his background, recording 43 of them across 77 games played between the 2015-2019 season. Due to injury, he was limited to action in only seven games last season, but while he did not record a sack, he was active in the backfield in generating pressure.
The ruler of the roost in Pittsburgh, of course, is T.J. Watt, a two-time running first-team All-Pro and a perennial contender for the Defensive Player of the Year. He led the NFL in sacks last season with 15, and has 49.5 in his career over four seasons.
He has not been practicing thus far during training camp, and it is not entirely clear why. While there is no current suspicion of injury, we do not know if this is related to the team’s pending contract negotiations with him, or if it’s simply because they know they don’t need him to be on the field just now.