New series here at Steelers Depot as we dive into the roster position-by-position and look at who may be sitting on the “roster bubble” heading into training camp after the conclusion of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. For the next part of this series, we will be looking at several linebackers likely fighting for the same roster spots.
The Names To Know:
Marcus Allen (age 25)
The Pittsburgh Steelers placed the restricted free agent tender on LB Marcus Allen this offseason, which he signed on April 14 according to his agent. Allen received an original round tender from Pittsburgh right before the start of the new league year in March, putting him on the books for $2.54 million in 2022. In 2021, Allen was active for every game expect one (COVID protocols) for Pittsburgh, logging 62 defensive snaps and 301 special teams snaps where he totaled 13 tackles.
While Allen doesn’t bring much to the table as linebacker, he does contribute heavily on special teams, serving as the team’s upback on the punt team. Given his role there, Allen has as good of a chance as any on this list to maintain his roster spot given his value to ST Coordinator Danny Smith. However, should one of the other names on this list prove that they can perform at a similar caliber as Allen in that facet of the game while providing more as a backup linebacker, Allen’s roster spot could be in jeopardy come training camp.
Robert Spillane (age 26)
The Steelers also played a restricted free agent tender on LB Robert Spillane this offseason, placing the right-of-first-refusal tender on the fourth-year defender. Spillane waited nearly a month before signing the tender, putting him at a base salary of $2.433 million that is not guaranteed, like the tender Allen signed. Spillane, a former UDFA out of Western Michigan, signed with Pittsburgh back in February of 2019 after being waived by the Tennessee Titans the season prior. He has made the 53-man roster each of the last two seasons, serving as a depth piece at LB while also playing on special teams. He has started 11 games the last two seasons for Pittsburgh while also playing 400 ST snaps in 2020 and 2021.
While Spillane has been a solid run defender when called upon for Pittsburgh, he has struggled mightily in coverage, prompting Pittsburgh to trade for Joe Schobert from the Jacksonville Jaguars during the preseason last year when Spillane was projected to be one of the two starting inside linebackers. Spillane is best suited for a reserve role in the LB room where he can be a key contributor on special teams units and contribute as a run defender when called upon to sub in or play in the case of injury. He has experience and is a steady producer against the run but lacks the athletic traits and movement skills in coverage be more than a backup-caliber player in the league.
Ulysees Gilbert III (age 24)
The Steelers selected Ulysees Gilbert III out of the University of Akron in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Since then, Gilbert has dealt with his fair share of adversity, dealing with a back injury that placed him on Injured Reserve in November of his rookie season and had another injury to his back place him in IR in 2020. He was active from IR in December of 2020 but was put back on IR just two weeks later. Gilbert managed to make the roster in 2021, playing in all 17 games where he served mainly as a core special teamer, logging 337 snaps according to Pro Football Reference, logging 15 total tackles as well as a blocked punt recovered for a TD.
Gilbert III is an athletic specimen at LB, having run a 4.51 40 at his Pro Day along with posting a 39 1/2” vertical and a 10’6” broad. Still, he is fairly raw at the position in terms of processing and taking good angles to the football. His lengthy injury history also hasn’t done him any favors in terms of his development as he now enters the final year of his rookie contract. Still, he has the traits to be a respectable depth piece at LB if healthy and has proven to be a viable special teams contributor, putting him right in the thick of things as he battles for a roster spot in training camp this summer.
Mark Robinson (age 22)
With the first of two seventh round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected ILB Mark Robinson out of Ole Miss. The selection of Robinson didn’t come as a shock to many here at Steelers Depot as Robinson was brought in for a pre-draft visit, often a telltale sign of the Steelers interest in prospects, especially later-round guys. Robinson only has one year of experience at LB under his belt, having transferred from Presbyterian College where he played running back. In his lone season at LB for the Rebels, Robinson stated nine-of-13 games played and recorded 91 total tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 11 pressures, and three sacks.
While very raw when it comes to the coverage aspect of the position, Robinson is that quintessential downhill thumper that brings the aspects of physicality and upside that prompted Pittsburgh to take him with one of their final selections according to new Steelers’ Senior Defensive Assistant/LB coach Brian Flores. He will have to make the team as a special teams ace as a rookie to beat out the likes of Allen, Spillane, and Gilbert III, but if Robinson can build on his physical traits and football character, there is a chance he can make the 53-man roster as he continues to develop as a more well-rounded linebacker.
What are your thoughts on the names listed “on the bubble” at the ILB position? Who do you think is safe and who do you think is in danger of losing their roster spot during training camp and the preseason? How do you see this position group shaking outcome the regular season as it stands today/ Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!