PITTSBURGH — It might not feel like it, but Steelers linebacker Ulysees GIlbert III is now entering his fourth year in the NFL with the team. With athleticism and hunger, Gilbert was thought to potentially be a breakout star at inside linebacker. However, a nagging back injury has held back the Akron product in his career.
Now healthy for the first time since his rookie season, Gilbert is going to have the chance to have a completely normal offseason. Both in 2019 and 2020, Gilbert was placed on injured reserve with back injuries. Finally, in 2021, he was able to stabilize a role with the teams as a special teamer, racking up 15 tackles in that role.
With a full offseason in tow to sharpen and refine his skills, Gilbert is hoping the 4.51 40-yard dash speed he flashed in the pre-draft process can help him get some snaps on defense. There is certainly an opportunity for Gilbert to make moves. Devin Bush and Myles Jack are the likely starters, but Gilbert could push for playing time. He hopes that full offseason of training can help him do just that.
“Man, I feel great,” Gilbert said. “You know, I’m going on year four, so you start to feel it out more. You start to feel more comfortable. I’ve been in the system for four years. It’s just a blessing, man, and obviously, I’m excited for training camp.”
It is his healthy back, though, that has given Gilbert the breath of fresh air that he has needed. Now he is comfortable and has a full year of offseason training under his belt. That could open doors for Gilbert to do more in the defense if he has taken the leap forward.
“This is the first time and it’s a blessing,” GIlbert said of his ability to just focus on football this offseason. “I can’t thank God enough for getting me to this point. When I was going through it, it was hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel. I’m seeing the light and I’m doing what I need to do to stay on top of it to hopefully never go back to that point.”
One of the areas that Gilbert is trying to work on is his vocal leadership. In team drills at minicamp, Gilbert was yelling out plays and getting guys into their right assignments. He is a true veteran at this point, which lends Gilbert to have that responsibility upon his shoulders. He and Brian Flores have talked about him being vocal and assuming that role in Flores’s limited time in Pittsburgh. So, Gilbert went to work to adopt that into his skillset.
“I want to be vocal and confident,” Gilbert said. “I am comfortable. Those are the main things. I’ve been in this system for four years so I’m finally getting a grip on things. Honestly, it’s just showing that to myself first. Then, it’s showing everybody else around me as well. I just want to have fun. That’s the biggest thing, man. Let’s have fun in the sport we love to play. I love being around my teammates and playing. I’ll help out my other linebackers. We are the quarterback of the defense. It’s about being loud, knowing what you’re doing, and knowing what everybody else is doing. So, I’m just trying to take a lot of pride in that and add that to my game.”
It will be tough for Gilbert to break through the glass ceiling. After all, the Steelers have a deep room with Buddy Johnson, Mark Robinson, Marcus Allen, Gilbert, and others battling for only a few roster spots. Maybe the full offseason work can allow Gilbert to turn the corner and fossilize a role. He has the special teams acumen, but can he take the next step? He will have to prove that in training camp and the preseason.