Steelers roster battle at linebacker is going to be intense

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Mark Robinson (93). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Mark Robinson (93). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have an extremely tight race on their hands at the linebacker position. Here’s why some decisions could come down to the wire.

For some positions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, predicting who makes the final 53-man roster won’t be difficult. We know that the team is going to keep three quarterbacks and who they will be. However, when it comes to the off-ball linebacker position, this might be the hardest position on the team to figure out.

Based on what I’ve seen at Steelers training camp, it certainly looks like there are three locks to make the team: Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane. These three players have seen ample time with the first-team defense and were projected all along to be a piece of the defensive puzzle moving forward.

However, after this group, the final linebacker spots get remarkably difficult to predict. Last season, the Steelers kept six off-ball linebackers (primarily for special teams purposes). Because of the strength of their wide receiver corps and interior defensive line, the team may be forced to cut one additional linebacker spot.

If this proves to be the case, they are going to have a difficult decision on their hands. After Jack, Bush, and Spillane, the Pittsburgh Steelers have three young linebackers fighting for potentially just two helmets on the roster: Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson, and Mark Robinson. This decision would have been even more difficult had Ulysees Gilbert not recently been waived with an injury designation.

As it stands, these three linebackers will be competing against each other for the remainder of training camp and the preseason to see who will make the roster. Robinson is Pittsburgh’s seventh-round pick this year, while Johnson was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but rarely saw the field as a rookie. Allen is the most experienced of the group and offers a stable presence on special teams.

Steelers LB battle will impact depth chart

While I do believe that it’s possible for all three of these young linebackers to make the final roster in 2022, I can also see this as a position that the Steelers elect to keep just five players to save an additional spot for WR or DL. Even if they keep six off-ball linebackers, the preseason is going to be huge for these players.

Between Allen, Johnson, and Robinson, whichever player winds up on the bottom of the depth chart heading into the season is very likely to be inactive on game day. Being the sixth player at the position on the Steelers roster, this player won’t see the field unless there is an injury or a player ahead of him on the depth chart is struggling.

At the same time, whichever linebacker can wind up fourth on the depth chart behind Jack, Bush, and Spillane, they project to be a huge part of the puzzle on special teams and could see some work on defense as well.

My hunch thinks that this will once again be Marcus Allen, though he has been nursing a hamstring injury, Allen played over 300 special teams snaps during the 2021 season, according to Pro Football Reference, and the Steelers coaching staff already has a level of trust with him.

The hope is that Buddy Johnson and Mark Robinson could do enough in time to find their way on the field in a rotation for defense. Robert Spillane’s contract is up following the 2022 season, so it’s possible one of these players could develop into the team’s third linebacker. With Bush likely leaving in free agency as well, there could be a lot of snaps to go around at the LB position.

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At the end of the day, I could see one of these linebackers getting cut and landing on the practice squad. It will be interesting to see not only which linebackers make the final roster in 2022, but also where they will land on the Steelers depth chart.