Steelers Back On Carousel At ILB Since Shazier With Holcomb, Roberts The Latest To Ride

There was once a time in which the inside linebacker position was one of the proudest traditions on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. Ever since the shocking, career-ending injury that took Ryan Shazier off the field, however, they have been riding the carousel at the position. Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are the latest to jump on; already we must ask how long they will last.

Maybe it’s a sign of my getting a bit older, but it doesn’t feel so long ago that the Steelers boasted James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons at the position. Shazier very much had the potential to be better than all of them—he was certainly the most athletic, and arguably the most instinctive. Vince Williams deserves some acknowledgement here as well.

But just recall how the defense fell apart overnight in 2017 after Shazier’s injury. The Steelers had the best defense that season that they’d had, up to that point, since arguably their last Super Bowl appearance. They still haven’t fully recovered because they haven’t had an answer at inside linebacker.

Devin Bush was supposed to be that answer, which is why head coach Mike Tomlin and former general manager Kevin Colbert were willing to pay such a steep price for him. They traded away a second-round pick and a third-round pick in order to move up 10 spots in the first round to draft him in 2019.

Bush showed promise, surely, up until his ACL injury in Year Two. Debate will linger for years to come as to how greatly that impacted his career and how good he might have been otherwise. But for contemporary concerns, he’s now the Seattle Seahawks’ problem.

And the Steelers continue to search. In 2018, it was Jon Bostic, signed to a two-year, $4 million contract. As quickly became a pattern, he was released the following year. He was replaced by Mark Barron, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract, of which he saw half. Pairing him with Bush was supposed to fix everything.

It didn’t. Williams, as mentioned earlier and to his credit, had been a solid presence since succeeding Timmons as starter in 2017. But he couldn’t do it on his own. The addition of Avery Williamson later that year didn’t solve anything.

Nor did the acquisition of Joe Schobert via trade in August 2021. The Steelers inherited his long-term contract that they terminated the following March—after signing Myles Jack to a two-year, $16 million deal. As you might have guessed, if you somehow didn’t already know, that deal was terminated, too, after the Steelers made further moves this offseason.

And that brings us to Holcomb and Roberts, quite possibly the Steelers’ starting inside linebacker duo in 2023. Neither were brought in on big-money deals. Neither are high-pedigreed players. Both beg the question of whether or not we’ll be back on the carousel a year from now. History suggests we will.

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