The Pittsburgh Steelers added Mykal Walker to their practice squad nearly three weeks ago, adding another young, experienced linebacker to the roster to back up the likes of Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander, and Elandon Roberts. With Holcomb and Alexander going down to season-ending injuries in back-to-back weeks, Pittsburgh was prompted to fast-track Walker to the 53-man roster, officially signing him this past weekend prior to him receiving his first start against the Cleveland Browns.
LB Coach Aaron Curry told Walker in the lead-up to the game to be ready for all personnel groups, suggesting that he was going to see a fair amount of action in his first game with the Black and Gold. Walker sure did as he ended up starting the game beside Roberts, logging 63 defensive snaps (84%), logging two total tackles on the day in Cleveland.
So, how did Walker hold up in his first game as a Pittsburgh Steeler? Well, it was a little bit of trial by fire for the former Atlanta Falcon as Walker got to experience both highs and lows in his first game of the season against the Browns. For instance, take a look at this play where Walker comes downhill and fills the B-gap on the right side of the line of scrimmage, taking on pulling guard Joel Bitonio in the hole as RB Jerome Ford gets the carry. Walker does a great job taking on the block but is unable to work off the block as Ford squeaks through the hole into the second level of the defense, getting to the sideline where he gets tackled by the face mask by CB Patrick Peterson. Walker does a good job going to his spot, but no one else gets off their block, leading to the big run.
Later on the same opening drive for Cleveland, we see the Browns knocking on the door from their own five-yard line. Ford takes the direct snap and runs to the right-side A gap with Walker filling the hole, in position to make the tackle. Ford then cuts back to his left, catching Walker slipping to the turf as he attempts to arm tackle Ford with his right arm, falling off the runner completely as Ford takes the carry inside the two-yard line.
Walker would get his welcome to AFC North Football moment later in the half on this carry by RB Kareem Hunt. Walker does a good job reading the play and working toward the gap that Hunt is running to, but he arrives with his shoulders turned from the line of scrimmage, running into Bitonio who pulls from the left guard spot and proceeds to take Walker for a ride, finishing him to the ground as Walker gets planted on his backside for the pancake block as the rest of the defense brings Hunt down in front of him.
Walker would do a better job as the game went on staying clean off blocks and getting in a good position to make the tackle on the runner near the line of scrimmage. Take a look at these two reps with the first rep showing Walker fighting through pressure as he fends off the block attempt by Bitonio and runs through the A gap into the backfield, teaming up with OLB T.J. Watt to wrap up Ford for no gain on the play. In the second clip, we see Walker quickly work to the edge to cut off Hunt from getting the corner, wrapping up the runner as he approaches the line of scrimmage to hold Hunt to no yardage gained on the play.
Here is another example of Walker fighting through a block to make the tackle on the runner, this time fighting across the face of RG Wyatt Teller to get into the gap and help bring down Hunt who tries to break out of an ankle tackle by LB Elandon Roberts, having both inside linebackers gang up to make the play.
Mykal Walker had a fairly mediocre game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, not sticking out in a positive or negative light. It was good to see the young linebacker get more dialed in as the game wore on, as is to be the case in your first game of the season in a new uniform having been picked up just three weeks ago. Walker displayed good effort in pursuit of the football as well as the speed and movement skills to chase after the football while dropping into coverage to cover backs and tight ends. He did get covered up at times on blocks, but he also managed to work around blocks to get in on the stop.
Walker got the nod over incumbent LB Mark Robinson who has been with the team now for two seasons. This speaks to Pittsburgh’s level of trust in Robinson to be a three-down player at this stage of his career. Walker has far more experience than Robinson and is a more skilled player in coverage, thus pointing to why he got the nod as the team’s starter compared to Robinson recording a goose egg in defensive snaps on the afternoon.
The Steelers just added LB Myles Jack to their practice squad, meaning that Walker’s first start against Cleveland in a Steelers uniform may also be his last. Jack knows the system and should be able to acclimate quickly depending on what shape he is in. Still, given Pittsburgh’s faith to promote Walker to the 53-man roster and roll him out there as a starter on Sunday, we still should figure to see more of the 26-year-old linebacker moving forward, regardless of whether Jack is eventually named a starter or not.