As the NFL calendar churns onward towards more OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and then the start of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have one glaring hole overall on the roster that needs addressed, according to one NFL.com writer.
That hole happens to reside behind reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and promising third-year linebacker Alex Highsmith in the No. 3 OLB role on the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Currently, the Steelers have veterans Genard Avery and Derrek Tuszka on the roster, with Tuszka serving as the special teams player of the four, handling heavy duties there, rather than seeing a number of snaps on the edge.
Avery has played his fair share of snaps on the boundary and has held up relatively well overall throughout his career, but according to NFL.com analyst Marc Sessler, the Steelers need to pinpoint pass rush help behind Watt and Highsmith this summer in the form of a veteran free agent signing, whether that’s before training camp or after cutdown day ahead of the regular season.
If the Steelers decide to play Avery on the edge, I think he'll make a great impact on rotational snaps as a run defender. Really sound, smart football player in this area. Can avoid blocks very well too, despite smaller frame. pic.twitter.com/6N1JqJznld
— Josh Carney (@ByJoshCarney) March 30, 2022
“The Steelers spent their draft reloading on offense, grabbing quarterback Kenny Pickett at No. 20 overall before selecting a pair of wideouts in Georgia’s George Pickens and Calvin Austin III out of Memphis. The overhaul of Pittsburgh’s attack is underway, but roster holes remain on the other side of the ball,” Sessler writes. “The Steelers are paper thin at outside linebacker beyond T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Were either to miss time, the Steelers can’t count on Genard Avery or Derrek Tuszka to fill the gap. It’s a tough time of year to find help, but camp cuts could bring an answer. The Steelers specialize at filling gaps with chip-on-their-shoulder veterans.”
Last summer in the weeks ahead of training camp, the Steelers signed veteran Melvin Ingram II to a one-year deal in hopes of him being the stout No. 3 OLB on the roster behind Watt and Highsmith. Things worked out well for the first few weeks as Ingram saw more playing time than expected due to injuries to Watt and Highsmith. Eventually though, Ingram wanted out, landing with the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade deadline deal involving a sixth-round pick coming back to the Steelers.
Kudos to Derrek Tuszka. Registered his first NFL sack yesterday. And it was a big one. Fought through a hold for a strip/sack on the Titans' final drive, putting them into 3rd and 15 that led to Joe Haden's 4th down stop. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/8AJvSYo2u5
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 20, 2021
Pittsburgh desperately needs to avoid that type of situation this summer, but the market is relatively bare at the moment. Current free agents at outside linebacker that fit a true 3-4 scheme include the likes of Pernell McPhee, Tuzar Skipper, Derek Roberson, Takkarist McKinley — who is working his way back from a torn Achilles — Justin Houston, Ryan Kerrigan, and Alex Okafor, just to name a few.
There’s certainly some intriguing names there, especially with Kerrigan, Houston, and McPhee, but the Steelers might opt and wait to snatch up a veteran following roster cuts in late August as teams must get down to the 53-man roster limits ahead of the regular season.
Though it’s anyone’s guess as to who could be available on cutdown day, or who would even interest the Steelers, it’s pretty clear the Steelers must add another veteran to the outside linebackers room, avoiding the issues they dealt with down the stretch from a depth and level of play concern overall after trading Ingram.