Omar Khan isn’t messing around. He saw a problem with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ inside linebackers and in his first full offseason as GM, is addressing it. I’m hesitant to say fixing it because time will tell there, but there’s certainly a massive shakeup at the position.
Robert Spillane, Myles Jack, and (99% sure) Devin Bush? Gone. Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts? Welcome aboard. Now, we don’t know the path Pittsburgh took to get here. Perhaps the Steelers wanted to re-sign Spillane and he took good money to go to Las Vegas. Hard to blame him, and Roberts came in as his replacement. We’ll probably never know for sure. Regardless, the room looks completely different entering 2023 as it did exiting 2022.
That’s not a bad thing. The Steelers’ inside linebackers were the color beige last season. Inoffensive but terribly bland. Zero splash plays among the group.
Being assignment-sound, tackling, and playing the run are all important, the foundations of the game, but defenses must create negative plays. Offenses are too good to just occasionally be stalemated. They have to be stopped, to lose a battle, for the defense to win the war.
Now Holcomb and Roberts probably won’t light the world on fire. But they might offer a little more. Holcomb is an athletic run-and-chase player from sideline-to-sideline. Roberts’ stat sheet was stuffed last year with 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. As Josh Carney has correctly pointed out, Roberts plays downhill and physical, a similar style to Mark Robinson, and had more tackles for loss than the departed trio combined.
As I just wrote, Pittsburgh’s track record of adding veteran off-ball linebackers off the free agency pile has been poor. There’s no guarantee Holcomb and Roberts are the answer and Pittsburgh should and probably will spend a decent draft pick addressing the position. But at least there was recognition a change needed to occur. That’s the first step, and Pittsburgh should have new energy there next season. Holcomb as a three-down communicator, Robinson and Roberts banging around against the run, and hopefully contributions from a draft pick. A cover-first guy would round out the room, someone like Daiyan Henley from Washington State.
Beyond inside linebacker, the defensive line room still has to be addressed. Have a strong down front and your inside linebackers will look better. For the Steelers, nose tackle is a question mark as is depth behind Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. We’ll see how Pittsburgh handles that the rest of the offseason, but the Steelers haven’t just tweaked their inside linebacker room. They tore it down, rebuilt it, and are giving it another shot.