PITTSBURGH — The Steelers will have changes at linebacker. Following the loss of Cole Holcomb for the rest of the season, Pittsburgh will give Kwon Alexander the green dot to relay the plays, and Elandon Roberts is expected to see more playing time moving forward. Mark Robinson could even shift into that role.
Holcomb’s injury threw the Steelers’ defense for a loop. Roberts and Alexander complement one another quite well. But Robinson is a different story. Instead of adding something that the other two do not add, Robinson adds more athleticism than Roberts but does not bring new skills. Both he and Roberts are primarily thumpers with run-stopping ability, but Roberts is the more intelligent player and more effective blitzer. That does not mean that Robinson can not give the group some snaps here and there, but his volatility raises some concerns.
“If it’s my time, it will be my time,” Robinson said. “But if not, I just have to keep doing what I’m doing now and that’s preparing myself. We’ll see when that time comes. When we get up under the lights, it will play itself out.”
Robinson does not know if he will play in this upcoming game against the Packers. Pittsburgh is still deciding that. But they do not want Roberts and Alexander to become too overexposed by what they do on defense, either. None of the three players at inside linebacker were stars, but they did an excellent job of complementing one another and accentuating strengths. That has to continue to be a critical goal for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. But Roberts does not see much changing.
“Right side, left side, none of that really changes,” Roberts said. “We have to go out there and play ball. I don’t think about the changes too much.”
Is There a New Option for Pittsburgh?
There is one other option the Steelers could turn to, however. Linebacker Mykal Walker, on the practice squad, is not some inexperienced rookie stepping into a new role. A fourth-round pick in 2020 out of Fresno State, Walker is a veteran with plenty of playing experience. Over his three years in Atlanta, he racked up 187 tackles, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, and one sack. In those years, he started 20 games for the Falcons, with 2021 being his most impressive season as an NFL player.
It is that experience that Walker will bank on and hope to turn into an opportunity. Inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry has Walker up to speed, and if the Steelers call upon him to play, Walker will be ready to go right away.
“I have been itching to get back on the field,” Walker said. “I mean, eight games, nine (weeks), I haven’t played yet (this season). I am trying to show the coaches, I can play (anywhere). Wherever they need me at, I have showed them I can play. So for me, it’s just learning the playbook, cramming it all in, and then showing them I can go out and play it.”
Walker never envisioned he would be in this role in his career. He describes himself as a versatile player. Coming out of Fresno State, he played on the edge and off-ball linebacker, but his coverage skills are intriguing. Walker could bring those coverage skills, something that Robinson does not bring in his game yet, and complement Roberts and Alexander moving forward.
“Well, I think of myself as a very versatile player,” Walker said. “I can do a lot of things, even coming out and going back to college, they asked me to do a lot of things. So, anything they ask me to do, I feel like I can do. Cover, blitz, defend the run, come off the edge. I feel confident to do all of that.”
At Fresno State, he was a two-time first-team All-Mountain West selection. Playing a hybrid role off-ball and sometimes as a blitzer off the edge, Walker racked up 182 tackles in his two years with the Bulldogs. He added 22.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as that hybrid defender up front. But Walker just wants a shot to show what he can do.
“I have (Aaron Curry), a great coach, getting me up to speed, being with him the last couple days, getting at it,” Walker said. The linebackers have been great. Kwon, I have known him forever, he’s really going to help me. (Roberts), he’s the mastermind of the operation. They are really getting me up to speed. I just want a chance.”
Walker might get that chance this week against the Packers. Pittsburgh is not shying away from implementing new guys into the system, and Walker could add a new dimension.