Coming off of a rather rough 2021 season for the inside linebacker position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, then-GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin knew they needed to address the position heavily in free agency and through the draft, especially with Devin Bush’s struggles in Year 3 and the importance of the position overall within the Steelers’ defensive scheme.
Enter Myles Jack.
The Steelers found themselves a bit fortunate early in free agency after the Jacksonville Jaguars, going through yet another regime change, cut loose the 26-year-old linebacker just one year into his four-year extension, placing a solid inside linebacker on the market. The Steelers pounced quickly, inking him to a two-year, $16 million deal, giving Pittsburgh a dependable veteran next to Bush, who aims to bounce back in his fourth season after his fifth-year option was declined by the Steelers.
With Jack in the mix, the Steelers’ run defense should be better. At least, that’s what they’re counting on, and why The Ringer’s Ben Solak named Jack the Steelers’ X-factor heading into the 2022 season Friday morning.
“For the first time since the 2019 season, the Steelers’ defensive signals won’t go through Devin Bush,” Solak writes regarding Jack’s selection for the Steelers’ X-factor on theringer.com. “Linebacker play has been a big issue for the Steelers over the past few seasons, culminating in a 2021 campaign in which they surrendered a league-worst 5.0 yards per carry and sixth-worst negative-0.022 EPA/rush. The starting defense is largely returned, save for the exchange of Jack for Bush at linebacker. Jack fell out of favor with the Jacksonville coaching staff, but still fits the mold of the modern starting linebacker—speed, explosiveness, coverage ability—that Bush was never able to realize.”
Though it’s pretty clear why Solak selected Jack as the Steelers’ X-factor, he’s incorrect in writing that Jack will be on the field ahead of Bush. They’ll share the middle of the defense together, and Bush will likely remain on the field in passing situations moving forward, sharing time with Robert Spillane.
Jack was brought in as that downhill hammer that the Steelers once had with Vince Williams in the middle as a run stopper and high-level blitzer. That’s what they’re expecting out of Jack, though that doesn’t mean he won’t bring something to the table in coverage. I understand being down on Bush and propping Jack up over him (Jack is the better player), but they’ll be in two different roles this season.
One will not push the other off the field like Solak believes. That said, Jack is certainly a key X-factor for the Steelers defensively. If he can play at a high level against the run, he’ll add an element the Steelers sorely missed last season against the run while being the worst defense in the league in that category.
Having an inside linebacker that plays with speed, physicality and can get off blocks will be huge in 2022.