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Keith Butler: Steelers OLB Depth Behind Watt, Highsmith Anything But Set

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PITTSBURGH — The Steelers knew the outside linebacker position was one where change would hit hard in the 2021 season. Without Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi, the Steelers ran the depth at the position paper-thin.

Cassius Marsh and rookie Quincy Roche are the main options behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. It is key for Highsmith and Watt to get quality rest to keep them fresh over the course of the game. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler gave some insight onto who may be first on the pecking order as it stands.

“Hopefully Cassius can give us a little help there too,” Butler said. “We’ll see. We drafted a couple guys. We drafted one guy and we think he’s gonna be all right. We’ll see about that third guy. Cassius, we think, can help us there.”

While Marsh is seen as the front runner right now, that is anything but a certainty. Butler is wishing that Marsh can be the answer, but he commented that they are still looking for that guy.

“We’re looking for the third guy. We’ve always had a third guy that could come in,” Butler said. “We’ve always wanted to have a third guy. Last year that third guy was Alex, of course.”

Later on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin spoke with the media, in which he reaffirmed what Butler had said. There is no certain number three and they could potentially add someone outside the organization.

“We’re going to coach those guys up and hope that attrition doesn’t set in, but I have that same mentality about all the positions,” Tomlin said. “It’s just not a lot of depth if you’re talking about injury setting in the way it set in on us collectively at the inside linebacker spot in 2020.”

In May, the Steelers showed heavy interest in former Washington Football Team pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan before he inked a deal with the Eagles. With these questions, it becomes a balancing act for Butler as to how much he is willing to push Watt.

“Well, a lot of times those guys have to tell us that themselves,” Butler said. “And they do. He’s always been good about that on the sideline, saying, ‘I’m tired,’ or, ‘I need a break,’ or, ‘I don’t need a break.’ To me, a player like that has gotta be in the game when it’s nut-cutting time. When is it nut-cutting time? Usually, early in the fourth quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter because it’s real tight a lot of times in the people that you’re playing.”

Watt noted himself on Tuesday that he wanted to be in on key plays as much as possible, despite the question marks on the outside linebacker depth chart.

“I always want to be out there as much as I possibly can,” Watt said. “But it’s also about managing my play and how efficient I am when I’m out there. I don’t want to be out there if I’m completely gassed.”

It seems the Steelers are certainly leaving the door open to adding a veteran pass rusher behind Watt and Highsmith. Between Butler’s uncertainty and Tomlin’s ominous comparison to the 2020 inside linebackers, it would be no surprise to see the Steelers bring another pass rusher.

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