The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a heavy hitter in the pass-rushing front when Bud Dupree departed this offseason as a free agent. Though it was predictable, it certainly left a hole not just in their starting lineup, but in their depth, leaving only promise and potential, rather than production.
While Alex Highsmith looks primed to make good on his potential, the addition of Melvin Ingram shortly before the start of training camp provided a crucial boost to their room, though they’re still looking for more. Cassius Marsh is a veteran who is angling for the number four role, but they have a couple of young linebackers having an impact during the preseason.
That would be Quincy Roche, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Miami, and Jamir Jones, a first-year former college free agent out of Notre Dame. Both of them have already recorded multiple sacks through two preseason games as they vie for potentially a fifth spot on the roster—though Marsh shouldn’t get that comfortable, either. Highsmith liked what he saw from them when he spoke to Missi Matthews during Thursday’s game.
“They’ve been great”, he said of the two young linebackers. “Both of them registered sacks in the game so far. It’s always good when you can get to the quarterback and get those sacks. Sacks is what matters. Getting pressure is great, but getting to the quarterback and getting him down is really what matters, so it’s nice seeing them getting pressure on the quarterback”.
Of course, getting anything out of your number five outside linebacker is gravy, especially if you are a team who is fortunate enough to have T.J. Watt as your number one rusher, who should become the highest-paid defender in NFL history any day now.
The Steelers also rely heavily upon Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt in the middle to create interior pressure, at which they excel, at a Pro Bowl level. Each have posted at least one season with 10 or more sacks, with Tuitt having done it just last year.
But quality depth, both on the edge and along the interior, has been a concern for years now. Watt, Highsmith, and Ingram give the Steelers their strongest top three on the edge that they have had in a while, or at least they should, on paper, but if they can find another future contributor at the back end of the roster, that’s certainly something they would be able to find room for.
There is a history of outside linebackers lighting it up in the preseason only to fall far short in comparison when they play meaningful snaps, if they even make it that far, though. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi was a preseason favorite in 2018. Tuzar Skipper, Howard Jones, and Adrian Robinson might all ring a bell, as well.