Though no different from any other year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of important decisions to make in the coming months about the direction of their future roster. That includes what the potential starting lineup will look like at inside linebacker.
They released 2021 starter Joe Schobert after signing Myles Jack in free agency, who started alongside Devin Bush, as well as Robert Spillane, who took on an increasingly significant role as the season went along. Bush and Spillane are free agents, while Jack has a high, $8 million base salary in 2023. So what will they do?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Gerry Dulac was asked during a chat yesterday how he expects the Steelers to address the position, whether through the draft or free agency, to search for improvements. “Probably the draft to find more young depth, but I think the plan is to see how ready Mark Robinson is for 2023”, he replied.
Robinson was a 2022 seventh-round draft pick who spent the vast majority of his rookie season as a healthy scratch, not even earning a helmet for special teams purposes. The team already had two other linebackers in Spillane and Marcus Allen who were special teamers (Allen, by the way, is also due to be a free agent).
Jack and Robinson are the only inside linebackers from the 2022 53-man roster who are currently under contract for next season, though they can obviously re-sign one or more of their pending free agents, or even release Jack.
The Steelers were obviously intrigued by Robinson, however, a former running back with a physical, hitting spirit. He played in each of the final three games, including technically getting the start in week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens. He played half of the defensive snaps and registered seven tackles.
With that being said, he also frequently showed his wetness behind the ears, both before and after the snap. He occasionally missed a read and ended up executing the wrong play as a result. His work in zones as a coverage player is very much a work in progress.
Of course, the Steelers knew that converting a running back into a linebacker was going to be a multi-year proposition. Head coach Mike Tomlin was even asked after Ravens game what made him comfortable to play the rookie, and he responded, “Who said I was comfortable?”.
Nevertheless, he was happy to see what Robinson could do once on the field, as were his teammates. But surely the Steelers are not going to bank on him becoming a full-time starter after logging 44 very patchy defensive snaps over a three-game span at the end of his rookie season. Perhaps he will be given an opportunity to earn a starting spot, but it won’t be uncontested without a viable alternative.