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Steelers Rookie Payton Wilson Has ‘Legitimate Shot’ to Win Dime LB Role

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Payton Wilson has a legitimate shot to win the Dime linebacker role.

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Pittsburgh Steelers LB Payton Wilson
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Payton Wilson during rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Compared to the way it has looked the last few years, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker room is positively loaded entering the 2024 season, and rookie Payton Wilson is the latest addition to a crowded and deeply talented room, but it hasn’t been clear until now how the Steelers will use him.

The Steelers are returning 2023 starters Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, and added All-Pro Patrick Queen as a free agent from the Baltimore Ravens on top of that, giving the team three experienced starters as a position where they only regularly use two.

The team then added third-round rookie Payton Wilson to the mix out of NC State. Wilson was expected to go much higher in the 2024 NFL Draft, but his injury history allowed the top collegiate linebacker in the country, with a tantalizing combination of size and speed, to fall to the Steelers at No. 98 overall.

RELATED: Steelers Rookie LB Payton Wilson Opens Up about Injury History

The question then became, how will the Steelers use him? They certainly won’t want Queen, who agreed to a three-year, $41 million deal in March, to spend a lot of time on the bench. Roberts is probably the Steelers’ best run defender in a division that loves to pound the rock. 

Holcomb returning from knee surgery has allowed Wilson to take a greater role during OTAs and minicamp so far, but the former starter doesn’t seem far from a return to action, creating a logjam.

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Payton Wilson Patrick Queen

Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers Patrick Queen and Payton Wilson during OTAs on June 6, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

It seems that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has already decided on how we wants to sort it out. He said before the second day of minicamp on Wednesday that the team has Wilson working as the Dime linebacker, and he thinks that’s a role he can win during training camp.

“He can really run,” Austin said. “That guy can move. He’s really sharp. He’s into football. He asks great football question. I think he’s going to have a legitimate shot to be a Dime linebacker, right off the bat.”

The Steelers play two linebackers in their base 3-4 defense and Nickel sub packages, but have only one linebacker in their six-defensive-back Dime package. That means that if Wilson is on the field, Queen will not be. That’s a big step for the third-rounder, but Austin has confidence in his ability to take it.

But he did hesitate to say that, especially at linebacker, no jobs are won while playing football in shorts.

“He can cover. He can run. He’s smart,” Austin said. “Once we get the pads on, that’s when we’ll make the final determination.”

Nick Farabaugh provided reporting from Pittsburgh.