What should the Steelers new plan be at linebacker?

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Kwon Alexander (54)
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Kwon Alexander (54) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the Steelers eeked out two wins over the past two weeks, this defense suffered some big losses. Against the Titans, Cole Holcomb tore up his knee and is done for the season. His primary replacement, Kwon Alexander, tore his Achilles this week, only adding to the linebacker troubles. Both were having respectively strong seasons.

Pittsburgh spent the entire offseason trying to build up their linebacker room. After multiple seasons of mediocrity, the defense overhauled the position and added multiple new names. Holcomb was the primary addition and the expectation was for him to be the three-down defender. Alexander was a late addition, but he was viewed as a strong reserve and Holcomb’s primary replacement when he was lost for the season.

Now, the team is down to second-year linebacker Mark Robinson and fellow free agent signing Elandon Roberts. The immense depth this team has added was depleted due to two freak accidents, and now they are left with a pair of similar linebackers. Both Roberts and Robinson are great run defenders, but neither can be counted on in coverage.

I wrote last week about who this team should try and add to replace Holcomb. With Alexander down for the rest of the year, this team has to get aggressive and get some new names in the building.

What the Steelers should do

Unfortunately, this late in the season, there aren’t a lot of great options to add to this roster. That said, there seems to be a pretty clear path as to what the plan should be. It starts in-house with the promotion of hybrid linebacker/former safety Tariq Carpenter from the practice squad.

No, this doesn’t resolve all issues, but it provides the team with a potential coverage linebacker in the fold. At a bare minimum, as a former safety, Carpenter can ideally chip in on coverage downs and be a more serviceable replacement for the injured players.

I would also be quick to add veteran linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to the practice squad. He was with the team in camp, played well, and should know the system. Considering his experience in the league, having him as an option makes a lot of sense. No, you don’t want Kwiatkoski to be counted on as the every-down starter, but he can be fine depth and play special teams.

While this is dependent on the health of Minkah Fitzpatrick, I also think you need to find a way to roll Keanu Neal into a hybrid linebacker role. He has experience there and has coverage ability as a safety. While he has been a fine box safety, he may be needed in more of a capacity than what he currently is playing.

Steelers should also grab a free-agent

It would also be wise to grab a practice squad linebacker for the team to work into the rotation. My favorite name from before, Cory Littleton, has since been signed by the Texans. That said, Rashaan Evans could be added, although there is a real chance that the Cowboys sign him given their own linebacker injuries.

No matter who it ultimately is, the Steelers would be wise to get a veteran in this week. For starters, he has to be on the roster for three weeks, so if it doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, you can get rid of him soon. I would bring in the veteran this week, and have him inactive next week (given the turnaround, that should be expected). Ideally, the unnamed veteran can get acclimated and into a defensive role after this week.

Next. Steelers free agent grades: Results are even uglier at the midseason mark. Steelers free agent grades: Results are even uglier at the midseason mark. dark

Unfortunately for the Steelers, there aren’t a lot of great options to fill out their linebacker room. Two serious and unexpected injuries this late in the season is hard to account for. That said, Pittsburgh needs a plan if they don’t want their once-deep linebacker room to become a liability once again.