The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost Kwon Alexander to the season with an Achilles injury. Despite moving to 6-3 and defeating the Green Bay Packers 23-19, the lack of healthy linebackers is becoming a severe issue. The Steelers were already playing without fellow inside linebacker Cole Holcomb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s Week 9 win over the Tennessee Titans.
With Alexander out early in the game, Elandon Roberts stepped up as the team’s green dot communicator for the defense, and Mark Robinson stepped into a starting role. Mike Tomlin refuses to make excuses for anything.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” Tomlin said. “They’re as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. I’ve learned over the years not to worry about those that are not available to me, but to focus my energies on those that are available to me to make sure that they are ready and prepared and focused.”
Tomlin’s mindset will also go up to Omar Khan and the front office. But what moves could they make? Here are a few options for Pittsburgh with guys who are out there.
Mykal Walker and Tariq Carpenter
This is the option of just staying in-house. Mark Robinson and Elandon Roberts are the only players at inside linebacker on the active roster. They don’t care, either. But there are two options in-house. Tariq Carpenter, got elevated from the practice squad for this week’s game against the Packers. Then, there is veteran Mykal Walker.
Walker can play MACK and BUCK linebacker roles, which project as the MIKE and WILL linebacker equivalents. He has played all three linebacker spots in a 4-3 and can even blitz off the edge. But his coverage upside is something that sticks out as a specialty.
Carpenter is a converted safety to linebacker. That offers him some unique coverage upside, too, and he is among the more athletic players on the bottom of the roster. Carpenter has some severe juice and will lay the wood. He expects to come up for the game, too. While both may not come up despite expecting it, Carpenter is generally newer to the linebacker position. But he could be an exciting option for the team to find that athleticism at the place and run with it.
On the Cowboys practice squad, Rashaan Evans is someone the Steelers have watched from afar for years, but he never became a Steeler throughout all of that. Dallas is thin at inside linebacker, too, and they elevated him from the practice squad for the final time this season. A move will likely get him up to the 53-man roster, but Pittsburgh can try their chances here. Evans is the best player of the bunch to me.
He will not give you elite coverage skills, but he can blltz and plays the run well. The better thing Pittsburgh is missing without Alexander and Holcomb? Athleticism. Evans has that. He fits what they do on defense and could fit well into a rotation immediately. Also, Evans is in football shape. That matters, too.
An old friend from training camp, Nick Kwiatkoski, was putting together a solid preseason and training camp before a shoulder injury derailed that. While he came back from his injury in the Buccaneers, he never seemed fully 100 percent, but if he is healthy now, this could be a worthwhile call for Khan to make. Kwiatkoski flashed decent coverage skills and has always been a steady veteran presence.
Kwiatkoski has racked up nearly 300 tackles in the NFL and has shown the ability to cover when needed, as he has hauled in six career interceptions. He knows the system and can serve as that type of rotation piece Pittsburgh Steelers could use. But the fact that Pittsburgh did not keep him around after training camp would raise questions. Is it health-related, or more so, they were not as impressed as I might have been? Read it however you may like, but this is undoubtedly a move they could look to make.
Barr is a fascinating player who could fit into this defense. For one, he might not be right in football shape. From that perspective, Barr is a tough sell, but that’s why workouts exist. Coming in from the outside could be challenging, but he had a significant role with the Dallas Cowboys last year.
Barr is an experienced player who played the traditional SAM linebacker role in a 4-3 defense, but with the Steelers could work as a hybrid. He can blitz off the edge but adds experience to the group they could like for security. Barr is an excellent open-field tackler while excelling as a downhill run defender. Again, he’s not the most versatile player in the world, but he’s the type of guy they can throw into a rotation and accentuate his strengths for it to work out.
There’s a real chance that Myles Jack will work on electrical wires later on Monday, but Pittsburgh might check in to see what’s going on there. If there is one thing that Jack has, it’s athleticism. He was a roller coaster last year but played a hefty amount, too. Could Pittsburgh get quality play out of him with his athleticism and avreage coverage skills to aid Roberts and Robinson?
He would know the system, too. He spent just one season in Pittsburgh, starting 13 games for the club in 2022 as an inside linebacker. He led the team with 103 tackles and three tackles for loss, one quarterback hit, and three passes defended. But injuries plagued Jack, who had a nagging groin injury all season. When healthy, he gave them solid play from that spot. Jack makes sense as an addition if he is in shape and ready to go. But you have to wonder if he wants to do that.