Since having an impressive rookie preseason in 2019, we haven’t heard that much about linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, a sixth-round pick out of Akron. Drafted for his elite speed, that initial impression left many fans with high hopes, but he’s spent more time on the Reserve/Injured List the past two seasons than on the field.
After spending the back half of his rookie season laid up on the reserve list, Gilbert spent two separate stints sidelined last season, all three times for a recurring back injury. Needless to say, it is a topic of conversation surrounding him entering year three.
“For my back, it’s healthy, I’m feeling good”, he told reporters earlier today, following practice. “I’ve got to keep doing my little routine every day to keep that going, so I could be able to elongate this season. That’s my biggest thing, just to keep going and have my back healthy for the season”.
Prior to dealing with a back injury for the first time a year ago, Gilbert opened the 2020 season as—as far as we know—a healthy scratch, with Marcus Allen, recently moved to linebacker, favored for his role on special teams. He began to dress after Devin Bush’s knee injury, and rotated in on passing situations with Robert Spillane for a couple of games until his back became an issue. He missed five games before returning, logging a career-high 19 snaps in his first game back on defense. The following week, he did not play on defense, but saw 12 snaps on special teams, before being placed on the Reserve/Injured List again, where he would remain for the rest of the season.
Right now, he is in competition to serve as the Steelers’ top backup inside linebacker, along with Allen and rookie fourth-round draft pick Buddy Johnson. Bush and Spillane are the uncontested starters, but depth has become a concern—specifically quality depth—since Vince Williams decided to retire.
As for Gilbert, he understands that the key to him being able to contribute at all revolves around availability, and that means doing everything he can to keep his back healthy. “That’s one of the things I’m focused on as well, to continue to strengthen and sharpen my skills for linebacker”, he said.
With no preseason last year, we didn’t get to see much of Gilbert at all, so I’m sure a lot of fans are more excited than normal to get to witness the Steelers in exhibition games in 2021. I would imagine that the third-year Akron product will be fielding plenty of playing time—as long as his back holds up.
We recapped the final practice @heinzfield before the HOF game on @SteelersLive and Ulysees Gilbert III explains why heading to Ohio is special for him. #SteelersCamp #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/gSzwLhFbGk
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 3, 2021