Coming off of a frustrating season that saw poor play and injury issues from the inside linebacker room, the Pittsburgh Steelers went to work in the offseason in the final months of Kevin Colbert’s tenure reshaping the the most important position group on the Steelers’ defense.
Colbert added former Jacksonville Jaguars’ linebacker Myles Jack on a two-year deal in free agency, and later drafted Ole Miss standout Mark Robinson in the seventh round, adding some serious athleticism and downhill thump at the position in hopes of correcting some serious glaring issues against the run from the 2021 season.
Devin Bush returns in the middle of the defense with another year removed from a devastating knee injury under his belt, while Robert Spillane provides solid depth on defense and special teams overall.
Despite reshaping the position group, the Steelers still have lots of questions in the middle of the defense. Though there is considerable talent at the position in the black and gold, the group ranked outside of the top 20 in Pro Football Focus’s latest positional rankings, placing No. 21 overall in PFF’s linebacker unit rankings Tuesday morning.
“Devin Bush has not lived up to his draft status as a first-round pick, and 2022 might be his last chance to prove himself at the NFL level,” PFF’s Seth Galina writes regarding the Steelers’ ranking. “The Steelers brought in former Jaguar Myles Jack to play alongside him. Jack had hovered near 70.0 overall grades before a down 2021 season, and the Steelers will hope that those good years aren’t behind him.”
Bush certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft status as a top 10 pick from the 2019 NFL Draft, at least in recent seasons. Though he was good as a rookie and showed flashes early in his second season before being lost for the year with the torn ACL, his 2021 season was nothing short of disastrous, leading to the Steelers declining his fifth-year option, putting him in a contract year this season.
While his stock is rather low at the moment, giving up on Bush entirely is foolish. With another full year removed from the injury – and a full offseason free of rehab — Bush should be able to get back to playing a respectable level of football, at the very least. So too, should Jack, who really struggled on a very bad Jaguars’ defense in 2021, leading to Jacksonville cutting him just two years into a long-term extension.
Jack is exactly what the Steelers have been looking for at the position since the Ryan Shazier injury, as he brings high-level sideline-to-sideline speed and athleticism, and is physical coming downhill against the run and as a blitzer. If he can shake off a bad 2021 season and rediscover his form, the Steelers may have stumbled onto something big in free agency.
Behind Bush and Shazier, Spillane has played sound football at times for the Steelers when pressed into action. He’s much better off in a limited role as depth, rather than playing starter snaps.
Marcus Allen, Ulysses Gilbert III, Buddy Johnson and Robinson will battle it out for the final two linebacker spots, assuming the Steelers keep five inside linebackers on the 53-man roster. It might not be as deep as it once was at the position, but it’s better than it was in 2021.