PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have no obvious place to turn to with Kwon Alexander out for the rest of the season. With two of their three starting inside linebackers at the beginning of the season now out, Pittsburgh has one roster spot open after releasing Breiden Fehoko. Perhaps the leader in the locker room to take that roster spot? Linebacker Mykal Walker. Walker’s experience and traits would make him an ideal candidate for that role.
Despite defeating the Green Bay Packers 23-19, these injuries worried the Steelers a lot on passing downs by how they played their coverages, but even then, Elandon Roberts got caught in some tough spots. Mike Tomlin refuses to cape for any excuses, though.
“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.”
Walker might fit into the role the Steelers want for a few reasons. He 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 an intriguing possibility. In general, Walker is athletic, too, and that’s always a plus when trying to replace an athletic linebacker like Alexander. He’s always had the mentality that he will be ready.
“I’ve always been that guy who had to wait and scrap and fight to get to the top. If my opportunity is called, I’ll be ready,” Walker said.
Who is Mykal Walker?
Walker will tell you that his greatest asset is his versatility. He’s not wrong. But his experience for the Steelers is a massive asset, too. 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.
The bigger part? He has worn the green dot and has 20 games of starting experience.
“I mean, I’ve worn the green dot before, so it’s nothing new for me,” Walker said. “I feel like I can do a lot of things. What I can bring to this room is experience and a lot of versatility.”
Tariq Carpenter got the elevation over him on Sunday. Walker’s only been in the system for so long, and the team did not want to throw him to the wolves. Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson played all the snaps, anyway. Walker could give Pittsburgh something in those sub-packages. They could pull Roberts off the field, not expose him to tough spots. Even if Walker is just average, that could open up many things for the defense.
“I’ve done all of this before,” Walker said. “Really, I’ve worn the green dot before, I’ve played in big games. Just my experience that I have out there, with the coaching staff, I’m going to ask questions all day long. It’s nothing like every guy in the room thinks they know everything.”
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 as an off-ball linebacker, but his coverage skills are intriguing. But after a decent year in Atlanta last year, Walker thought ht would have a role there.
“To be honest, I never envisioned myself in a role like this after last year in Atlanta,” Walker said. “For me, I’m just riding the roller coaster up and down and waiting for my number to get called. My agent keeps me ground. Sometimes, I’m ready to explode. This journey has taught me a lot. You have to be ready when your number is called. If you look at first two years in Atlanta, it’s been the same way.”
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 wants a shot to show what he can do. He played the same role in Atlanta. Now, he might have to do it in Pittsburgh.