The biggest story of the night for the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have anything to do with what occurred on the field. There were touchdowns. There were takeaways. But the takeaway of the day was that the Steelers made themselves better in the middle with the acquisition of former Pro Bowl inside linebacker Joe Schobert.
While the addition is bad news for Robert Spillane, who will now be demoted to second string, the reality is that the performance of the inside linebackers up to this point has left much to be desired. No doubt, that was the motivating factor for general manager Kevin Colbert and company to pull the trigger.
But this isn’t the story of Schobert’s arrival in Pittsburgh. It’s about the level of play at the position that enticed the Steelers to make that move in the first place. And the way that Ulysees Gilbert III and Spillane performed in particular during Thursday night’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles showed that this was a group that could be upgraded.
The team probably felt good about their depth heading into training camp knowing that they had Vince Williams in reserve, but he decided to retire just as camp was about to break. That left them with a question to answer as to who would be the next man up at linebacker.
Presumably, that answer is now Spillane, who started seven games last season, and was set to be a full-time starter this year before the move to acquire a new man in the middle. While I think most would have had a relative level of comfort with him in the lineup, they just made themselves better.
Both Spillane and Gilbert were frustratingly late in coverage in particular against the Eagles, and overall, the impression is that their level of play through training camp up to this point was something that could be improved upon.
But watching the night’s game with that report in the back of my mind about Schobert coming in really lent a key perspective about this defense and where it was in the middle. They were often a step behind. On one second-down run, Gilbert missed an opportunity for a tackle for loss simply because he didn’t see the back. They both missed plays in coverage.
Gilbert, in fact, may be playing himself off the roster at this point. In fact, I would even say it’s likely. He was a healthy scratch for most of last season, with Marcus Allen playing ahead of him. Buddy Johnson is a rookie fourth-round pick, so he’s going to have an edge. You already have five there.
But they didn’t do anything in the game to make me second-guess the team’s decision to add a new starter, here. In, fact, if anything, they strengthened the case for it being necessary.