Now that we’ve said goodbye to all of the prominent members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster from a year ago, it’s time to introduce ourselves to the new blood. Many of them, of course, are draft picks, but the team also ended up picking up numerous players via free agency, the majority of whom we’ll likely be seeing in-season at some point.
Roster turnover is an inevitability in the NFL, but the 2021 season marked greater change than normal. Some of those adjustments will be accounted for internally, but it will also require the supplementing of a number of new components, which we’ll be reintroducing ourselves to over the course of this series.
Last (for now?), and certainly not least, we have one more new face to introduce you to, and that is none other than the Steelers’ new starting inside linebacker, Joe Schobert, a veteran trade acquisition who is entering his sixth season in the NFL.
Originally a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2016 by the Cleveland Browns, Schobert would emerge as a starter by year two, and he would even make the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with 144 tackles that season, along with three sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception.
He has remained surprisingly adept at creating splash plays since then, and enters the 2021 season with nine career interceptions and nine forced fumbles, for a total of 18 over five seasons, encompassing 65 starts across 77 games.
Schobert landed a five-year, $53.75 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2020 with the Jacksonville Jaguars after spending his first four seasons in Cleveland. He continued his same level of play, registering 143 tackles with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Jacksonville underwent a regime change this offseason, however, with Urban Mayer in as head coach and Trent Baalke in as general manager. They have excised themselves of a lot of the baggage of the previous regime, and that includes Schobert.
The Jaguars decided to move Schobert and his contract after gaining a level of comfort in their depth at inside linebacker, including Damien Wilson and Shaquille Quarterman, who may both have roles playing next to Myles Jack this year.
As far as its impact on the Steelers, it demoted Robert Spillane to the second-team unit, out of the starting lineup. It also gives them the option of using him as a three-down, defense-setting linebacker, though roles are yet to be finalized.
The cheap acquisition of a starting-caliber player gives the team major insurance against the event of a disappointing comeback from Devin Bush, their 2019 first-round pick who is working his way back from a torn ACL.
At the very least, it gives them the opportunity to bring Bush along slowly, not putting the green-dot responsibilities on him, for example, and giving him snaps off in the dime defense. That is one possibility, but it remains to be seen how the plan will take shape once the regular season arrives.