The Pittsburgh Steelers just recently signed veteran outside linebacker Melvin Ingram to a one-year contract. A former Pro Bowler and a regular starter since his second season in the league, he was signed for $4 million.
While that’s not a major splash relative to the top end of the pay scale for the position, that is good money if you’re thinking about leaving him on the bench. Naturally, his acquirement has people asking questions—such as how much the Steelers expect him to play. And naturally, head coach Mike Tomlin had no answers for that on Thursday.
“It’s really much too early. Right now, we’re just teaching him to see how quickly he can learn, and that’s probably gonna dictate reps”, he told reporters following the first training camp practice. “What we don’t want to do is waste game reps on anyone, so his level of preparedness, his ability to execute detail, particularly at the early stages of development, is gonna determine how much he participates, or when he participates”.
Alex Highsmith is in line to start this season, replacing Bud Dupree after he signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency. A 2020 third-round pick out of Charlotte, Highsmith started the final five games of the regular season last year after Dupree tore his ACL, and generally acquitted himself well.
Still, the addition of Ingram, a proven starting commodity, has people wondering what the workshare is going to be like. T.J. Watt is on the other side, and he’s probably not going to come off the field a lot, so will there be a platoon on the right side? Will Ingram have to earn his reps?
As Tomlin said, the first step for the new face on the roster is showing that he is up to speed on the defense, because he’s not going to get on the field before he knows what he’s doing, because they don’t want to “waste game reps”.
Ingram spent his entire career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, recording 49 career sacks in 113 games and 96 starts. He made three consecutive Pro Bowls in 2017, 2018, and 2019, but missed the majority of last season due to injury.
As a rookie last year, Highsmith recorded 48 tackles, including on special teams, with five for loss. He also had two sacks, six quarterback hits, and an interception and pass defensed. While he only finished twice in the backfield, though, he showed clear promise as a developing pass rusher who already has nuance in his game.
While Ingram is a player with proven starting experience, I think his signing was much more about depth than about Highsmith’s relative inexperience. But the addition helps to address both concerns, even if one significantly outweighs the other. From a team perspective, it doesn’t really matter who’s on the field, though, as long as they’re getting the job done. There’s no such thing as having too many solid pass rushers.