PITTSBURGH — A change is coming to the Steelers’ inside linebacker rotation. Elandon Roberts may or may not play, but even if he does, it seems like veteran linebacker Blake Martinez is getting ready to play his first game in a Steelers uniform, and he should see a role.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin called Martinez ‘sharp’ while he prepared himself and got up to speed with the rest of the defense. But now they might need him to play meaningful football in a must-win game. The hope that preparation pays dividends.
“What I’ve learned about Blake (Martinez) since he’s been here, he’s really sharp, really attentive,” Austin said. “I think –and again, until you get him on the field, you don’t know. I think he’s got a really good football aptitude, blends in well with our guys. All that stuff is positive moving forward.”
Well, Martinez believes that is this week. He was told to be ready for all packages that the Steelers could run. There were issues when Mykal Walker took over as the green dot on Sunday. Pittsburgh shortened its schematics, and from a communication perspective, everything was simplified. With Martinez, it might not have to be that way.
“I was just kind of told to be ready to go,” Martinez said. “Whatever that turns into, I’m ready for it. But I’ll be ready for anything and all the packages, nickel, base, dime, whatever.”
Martinez has written out the formations and checks throughout the playbook to catch up. But he has sought help from someone who has been here before, too — Myles Jack. Jack will likely get a helmet for the first time this season on Sunday. Brought in to help the depth of the room, Jack has the unique advantage of playing in the defense. He has helped Martinez while trying to get into football shape. But he feels like he is nearly there.
“If need be, absolutely,” Jack said. “I’m just waiting to see. If they give me the green light, I’m ready to go. It’s the same system as last year. You can tell they’ve been growing it a little bit, but that’s just tweaks. It’s all very similar. I know it. It’s like hopping back on a bike. It takes two to three weeks to get acclimated, and I keep it pushing.”
Walker Still Looming
With Roberts out, the communication snowballed. The Steelers had a few lousy run fits and a few times where they did not get the front set, allowing the runs to spring out. More than that, the team’s tackling display was horrid. Walker had a challenging game there, too. But don’t expect Walker to fade into the background as someone who does not have a role. He will play, and the Steelers need his athleticism.
“You know, last week, I know that tape was unacceptable to me,” Walker said. “It was not up to the Steelers standard and not up to my standard. I’ve been working hard to make sure that never happens again. It was one of my worst games I’ve played in the NFL.”
Simply put, after two solid games, Walker played poorly, but that might be because he got overexposed and asked to do too much. But that might be why the team is looking to change their approach. During his Thursday chat with Bob Labriola, Tomlin hinted that a rotation for these guys could make sense to maximize skill sets.
“With the other linebackers, we’re probably better served to cast a big net and utilize all of them in an effort to maximize performance,” Tomlin said. “It might be a lack of conditioning or preparation from that perspective in the case of a Blake Martinez who hasn’t been here a long time, or it might just be a lack of exposure from a guy like Mark Robinson, in terms of defensive snaps in the National Football League. So it’s best to cast a big net to be inclusive to utilize multiple people when you’re doing that.”
Pittsburgh hopes this new look room can work, without a banged-up Roberts or not. They need it to, because a win is much needed as they head down the home stretch.