The Steelers off-ball linebackers went from one of the strengths of this team to one of the bigger weaknesses once again. To be fair, there isn’t much the team could have done. The linebacker room was completely rebuilt in the offseason. While there was a lone holdover, there were some expectations for him as Mark Robinson looked good in limited action as a rookie.
Despite that promise, the team added three major names to the linebacker room. The crown jewel was Cole Holcomb who was brought in to be the three-down linebacker. Elandon Roberts was brought in as a run stuffer, and Kwon Alexander was added to be a do-it-all backup. The trio was working for the majority of the season.
Even though he was buried on the depth chart, there was still hope that Robinson would be given an opportunity in the future. The team publically said he could compete next year, but there is always a chance injuries could force him into a new role.
Injuries did just that though. Holcomb was lost for the season and the team lost Alexander in the week afterward. Predictably, the team was quick to add some new names to the mix. Depth was needed, as the team only had two healthy linebackers on the roster. That said, I expected Robinson to take on a larger role.
The Steelers are clearly low on Mark Robinson
Despite these injuries, the team has seemingly found any reason to avoid playing Robinson on defense. While he and Roberts were the last two linebackers on the roster, the team opted to only expand Robert's role. Mykal Walker was elevated off the practice squad and given an instant starting role. They also signed veteran Blake Martinez, who had just recently come out of retirement.
Again, this isn’t the issue, as the depth chart needed to be filled out. The issue is that Walker became the starter right out of the shoot. Robinson wasn’t even given a shot to play, which is surprising considering the fact that Robinson has been on the roster all year.
It isn’t like Walker has been a great fit for this defense either. While a fine run defender, Walker has been a major liability in coverage. So much so that he has been picked on constantly in the passing game. The team seemed to recognize that, so they split reps between him and Martinez against the Patriots.
While Robinson seemed like a limited player on paper, he needs a shot at playing. The rest of the options have been bad, and Robinson has done nothing to deserve being in the bench. Roberts is a similarly limited player, but the team has made do with him and he has continued to shine as a centerpiece in this defense.
Why are the Steelers so adamant that Robinson can’t play defense? When given the opportunity, he has flashed some good traits. He is a similar player to Roberts, but this team isn’t exactly flush with options. It isn’t like the combination of Walker and Martinez is doing great either. Robinson should at least be in a rotation.
It seems like this team has fallen out of favor quickly with the former seventh-round pick. Going from potential starter to buried on the depth chart to now being kept off the field by the rotation of lackluster linebackers is hard to justify.
The only hope I can see is the Vince Williams timeline. Taken in the sixth round, Williams earned a spot as a rookie and was forced into a starting role. Despite holding his own, he was sent back to the bench for the next three seasons. He eventually reascended as a starter and the rest is history.
Will Robinson be the next Williams? Not likely, but that is the only hope I can see left in how the team is using Robinson. That said, it is frustrating to see the group struggle as they have, and the defense still refuses to use Robinson. It doesn’t bode well for his long-term potential with the Steelers.