The Pittsburgh Steelers threw a lot into the inside linebacker room this offseason when GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidle completely remodeled the room.
Devin Bush, Myles Jack and Robert Spillane are gone. There’s Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse, and now Nick Kwiatkowski. It’s a new look, but is the room much better?
Only time will tell.
Pro Football Focus doesn’t believe the room will get much better, ranking the Steelers’ linebacker unit No. 24 in its latest position ranking piece heading into the 2023 season. Pittsburgh is just ahead of the Washington Commanders at No. 25 and just behind the Arizona Cardinals at No. 23.
According to the PFF rankings, the Steelers are the fourth worst linebacker unit in the AFC, right behind the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans, and Houston Texans. not good!
“It seems strange to rank the Steelers’ linebackers so low, but their unit struggled tremendously in 2022, with the fourth-worst overall passer rating in the NFL at 51.1. Devin Bush, Myles Jack and Robert Spillane are gone. The arrivals of Cole Holcomb, Allendon Roberts and Tanner Muse,” PFF’s Dalton Wasserman wrote Tuesday of the Steelers’ linebacker rankings. “Holcomb is a starting potential player who has struggled to stay healthy two of the past three seasons. Roberts is an excellent blitz shooter who doesn’t excel much, and Muse played well when given the opportunity in Seattle, but he only has 125 career defensive snaps.
“The Steelers should have a very good defense this season, but their linebackers are clearly the weakest link in the unit.”
Last season the Steelers’ inside linebackers were beige. Overall harmless, but awfully bland. Zero plays in the splash group for the entire season in 2022 for the Black and Gold.
This led to significant changes within the room.
In his career, Roberts has 456 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception, and 10 passes defensed. Working the downside is much better than falling into cover. According to Pro Football Reference, Roberts has allowed 87 receptions (113 targets) for 941 yards and six touchdowns in his six-year career. The quarterback is rated 108.8 when targeting him.
Those numbers aren’t great, but Roberts was signed with one thing in mind: go downhill against the run and set the physical tone for a defense that once again needs that element at linebacker.
He’s also a factor as a blitzer, the Steelers really missed an inside linebacker since Vince Williams patrolled the midfield for the Black and Gold.
Stylistically and on paper, Roberts is a great fit for the Steelers. He’ll obviously get off the field in passing situations, but he’ll also be a two-down linebacker with some high-end special teams skills. For the price the Steelers paid, he’s a very solid investment in a much-needed position.
As for Holcombe, he struggled with injuries in 2022, playing just seven matches. He had 69 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and one pass defended in those seven games for the Commanders.
Holcomb had a breakout season in Washington in 2021, recording 142 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one sack, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery . He started all 16 Commanders games that season.
In four seasons, Holcomb has seen action in 50 games, starting 48.
Muse is shaping up to be the special teams side of the group, though he did shine late last season when he was given a defensive opportunity for the Seattle Seahawks. Still, it seems a bit much to rely on it to do anything defensively.
Much of the attention in the linebacker room in Pittsburgh will be focused on second-year pro Mark Robinson, who is key in this room. If the former seventh-round pick takes a significant step forward, the room appears to be in better shape. If not, trouble is on the horizon. He’s a great athlete, plays with his hair on fire and is constantly around the ball, but he’s still learning the position after switching back and is a bit raw overall.