Biggest Steelers Storylines By Position Pre-Training Camp: Inside And Outside Linebacker

Continuing our series looking at the biggest storylines by position group as the Steelers prepare for training camp at the end of July. In this entry, we’ll look at the inside and outside linebackers.

Inside Linebackers: Can the revamped group make that much of a difference?

This offseason, the Steelers completely rebuilt their inside linebacker corps, letting Devin Bush and Robert Spillane walk in free agency while cutting Myles Jack. In their place come free-agent additions Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, the recently signed Nick Kwiatkoski and Tanner Muse, although I think Muse will primarily be a special teamer.

Pittsburgh’s off-ball linebacker spot has been a problem for years. Pretty much ever since Ryan Shazier suffered a career-ending injury, the Steelers have struggled with stability and production at the position. Bush was supposed to be the guy, but he never put it together after tearing his ACL in his second year in the league. So now, the Holcomb-Roberts pairing is tasked with ending Pittsburgh’s lackluster play at the position.

On the surface, there’s a little bit to be excited about. I’m pretty high on Holcomb, but the group has a glaring weakness in that neither Holcomb or Roberts are particularly skilled when it comes to coverage. That’s a concern, no doubt. I have hope that Keanu Neal can serve in a dime backer role and help in coverage, but it’s not going to be something that happens on every passing down.

Holcomb is also coming off a foot injury, but he was able to get work in during OTAs and minicamp so he should be close to 100% by the time training camp starts. I’m pretty hopeful that Holcomb is going to be a solid piece for Pittsburgh, and he has a strong body of work in Washington. Roberts is a downhill thumper and I think he’ll fit in well and make some plays.

The lack of coverage ability is just something that scares me though the more I think about it. I think this group can be better than last year’s group, and they probably will be. But I’m just not sure there’s any real long-term stability here, and in two years this group might be completely gone. Inside linebacker will probably need to be high on Pittsburgh’s priority list heading into the 2024 NFL Draft.

Outside Linebackers: Will Markus Golden step up as a reliable third option?

When T.J. Watt went down with his torn pectoral last season, the Steelers were hopeful that Malik Reed could fill in and be a capable pass rusher. That wasn’t the case, as Reed was too undersized and just wasn’t able to make much of an impact. With Reed hitting the open market and Jamir Jones released following his arrest, the Steelers set out to improve their depth at OLB and added Markus Golden.

Golden has a history of success, tallying 47 sacks in his nine-year career. He also has a relationship with outside linebacker’s coach Denzel Martin, as the two were college teammates at Missouri. At least as a locker room veteran, Golden seems like an ideal fit. My concern is his consistency. He’s had really strong seasons, putting up double-digit sacks, only to struggle to surpass five in a season in others. Golden went from 11 sacks in 2021 with the Arizona Cardinals to 2.5 last season.

Pittsburgh doesn’t need him to get double-digit sacks, and they’re not paying him a ton of money, either. But they’re going to need him to be a consistent pass-rush presence when he’s on the field. I don’t think 5-6 sacks is unreasonable to expect out of Golden, and I do think that with this group and team around him, he’ll be fine.

Bringing another veteran voice in the room should also help the development of Nick Herbig, and given the contract Golden got, I think the signing is just as valuable off-the-field as it is on it. While the consistency concerns are valid, I’m confident Golden will bring a lot to the Steelers as a player and a leader.

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