3 things to watch for during Steelers vs. Cowboys Hall of Fame Game

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Buddy Johnson (51). Mandatory Credit: Karl Roster/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports /

Which off-ball linebackers take the field early in the game

This is a positional group I’m particularly interested in. Devin Bush is returning from an ACL tear that cost him the majority of his second NFL season in 2020, but he should be full-strength heading into the 2021 season. However, he’s unlikely to play much (if at all) during the Hall of Fame game.

This has me particularly interested in seeing how the pecking order plays out at the linebacker position. As of now, veteran Robert Spillane is listed as the starter at ‘Buck’ linebacker next to Bush, but he may or may not be a full-time player for the Steelers this year.

Behind him are a group of young linebackers – most with intriguing athletic upside – who will be chomping at the bit for playing time on defense this year. This group includes Ulysees Gilbert, Marcus Allen, and Buddy Johnson. Each linebacker was a former day-three upside pick in the NFL Draft, and it will be interesting to see when each will take the field during the Hall of Fame Game.

It will also be interesting to see what role Keith Butler might have for each of these players in 2021. Will they be primarily special teams players and insurance policies in the event of an injury to Bush or Spillane, or will one of these players do enough to carve out a major role on defense this year? Tonight will be the first big test.