Coaches don’t always have the most interesting things when they get in front of the media, and there tends to be blame to go around in both directions. Reporters don’t always have the most exciting things to ask about, but also, coaches aren’t always in a position—or a mood—to indulge beyond the requirements.
That’s one of the reasons that my ears tend to perk up when I hear volunteered information—things said that were not asked about. Like when Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to volunteer, in a sense that I felt was beyond the standard position, his openness to sincere competition, maybe even rotation, at inside linebacker.
He was asked about the cornerback position and how they have three guys who can all play outside in Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace, and how he’ll go about figuring that out. “It’s to be determined”, he said, via the team’s YouTube channel.
“I’m excited about that. But I’m excited about a lot of things”, he continued, before volunteering that it’s not the only position he’s excited about. “I like our inside linebacker rotation that has a lot of capable men, and I think that’s why we’re here”.
Now, Tomlin as much as any coach is going to give stock answers about how every position every year is up for grabs, and all that sort of stuff that is usually nonsense for all practical purposes. But I think most people had it in their head that Myles Jack and Devin Bush were pretty set at inside linebacker.
Maybe they’re not, not quite. Maybe there’s room for guys like Robert Spillane and Buddy Johnson in there. Spillane, of course, already had a role last season as a sub-package player, and sometimes more than that, and has starting experience, so that wouldn’t be a shock.
Johnson was a fourth-round pick in 2021 who missed his window for potential playing time when said opportunity coincided with a foot injury that ultimately landed him on the Reserve/Injured List by the end of the season. But they didn’t just draft him to play on special teams. They want to see him earn a role on defense.
I don’t know how realistic it is that we could be talking about a shakeup in the starting lineup, but certainly, speculation about some rotational playing time isn’t out of the question, if the talent is there that suggests it is in the team’s best interests.
“With each passing day, with each passing rep, we’re going to gain clarity about some of those type of questions”, Tomlin said in response to a question with a similar theme about determining who is on the field and when.
After all, that’s what training camp is for. You figure out who your best players are, or at least you do so as best you can before you get into games. And if either Bush or Jack struggles, they’re going to need to know that they have someone who can step in.