PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Devin Bush had a standout first year at inside linebacker, posting a team-high 109 tackles. A number which also led all NFL rookies and included 72 solo tackles. Bush returns for his second season with the Steelers and will lead a linebacking core which also includes two-time Pro Bowler, T.J. Watt.
With camp underway, the Steelers will have to cut the number of rostered linebackers down from the current number of 13 by the end of August:
- Alex Highsmith, Rookie (Charlotte)
- John Houston, Rookie (USC)
- Leo Lewis, Rookie (Mississippi State)
- James Lockhart, Rookie (Baylor)
- Christian Kuntz, 1st Season
- Devin Bush, 2nd Season
- Ulysees Gilbert III, 2nd Season
- Tuzar Skipper, 2nd Season
- Robert Spillane, 2nd Season
- Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, 3rd Season
- T.J. Watt, 4th Season
- Bud Dupree, 6th Season
- Vince Williams, 8th Season
Projected ‘Starters on Sundays’: T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree (Outside Linebackers), Devin Bush and Vince Williams (Inside Linebackers)
Watt returns from 2019 where he posted an impressive 14.5 sacks and tied for an NFL-best eight forced fumbles. He added four fumble recoveries. In April, the Steelers extended Watt’s fifth-year option, locking him up as a Steeler through 2021.
At the other outside linebacker position, Dupree comes back for his sixth season. In 2019, he notched a career-high 56 tackles along with three pass deflections. He also posted 11.5 sacks.
The inside linebacking crew will exhibit a veteran in Vince Williams and a second-year star in Bush. Williams has been with the Steelers his entire career with 2017 being his strongest statistical year in Black and Gold. However, with the up and coming Bush back, it’s likely Williams will continue to teach and mold Bush.
These four will be the starters in September barring any unexpected changes in camp this month.
Reserves: Alex Highsmith and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (Outside Linebackers), Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane (Inside Linebackers)
Highsmith, a two-time, first-team All-Conference USA selection, signed with the Steelers after being drafted 102nd overall in this year’s draft. Highsmith collected 15 sacks in 2019 with the Charlotte 49ers and forced two fumbles in 13 games.
Highsmith will become a solid option to back up an already impressive outside linebacker group.
Adeniyi played in all 16 games last season but had just six tackles. At 6’1” 248-lbs., Adeniyi will likely fall to fourth on the depth chart behind the rookie Highsmith.
For reserves at inside linebacker, Gilbert and Spillane are the main options. Gilbert played in seven games his first season pulling off five tackles. Spillane came to the Steelers and provided 11 tackles in 2019, after playing just two games with the Tennessee Titans in 2018. Both will likely be kept on the 53-man roster as coach Mike Tomlin will keep a minimum of eight linebackers.
Battling for a Spot: Tuzar Skipper, James Lockhart (Outside Linebackers), John Houston, Leo Lewis (Inside Linebackers)
With four outside and inside linebackers already set, theoretically, it leaves roster space for one more linebacker according to Tomlin’s history of keeping nine at the position.
Skipper seems likely to get the nod after action in six games in 2019. He had three tackles, a half a sack, and one fumble recovery.
Lockhart, Houston and Lewis were all undrafted free agents who the Steelers signed this off-season following the draft. The three will be kept around camp for a little while, but it’s doubtful any will make the final cut in September.
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