The Pittsburgh Steelers face a major concern at inside linebacker with Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander out for the rest of the season. But one thing is for certain, former Steelers defensive player of the year T.J. Watt is confident in what veteran Elandon Roberts will bring to the team’s inside linebacker corps.
Watt raved about Roberts while appearing as a guest on the latest episode of Yote House Media’s Green Light with Chris Long on November 13.
“Roberts is an incredible player. I think he’s done it for a long time and is just a guy that’s a steady voice,” Watt told Long. “He knows exactly what he needs to do out there. He’s a thumper, he takes a lot of pride in his work.”
Roberts signed a two-year, $7 million contract to join the Steelers this past offseason. Pittsburgh also signed Holcomb and Alexander to free-agent deals, but each suffered season-ending injuries in the first half of November.
Beginning in the NFL as a sixth-round pick for the New England Patriots during the 2016 NFL draft, Roberts has posted 56 combined tackles, including 6 tackles for loss with the Steelers in 2023. He also has 4 quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks and 1 pass defense.
Steelers’ Elandon Roberts Setting the Tone for Defense
Holcomb and Alexander played more snaps than Roberts in the first 10 weeks of the season. But Roberts has started eight of the team’s nine games.
Furthermore, Watt emphasized during his podcast guest appearance that it’s been Roberts that’s set the tone for the Steelers defense.
“It’s like a Wednesday here in season or even like a Thursday and it’s like, we don’t have any pads on let’s just calm down,” Watt said of Roberts’ physicality at practice. “But it’s setting the tone – it really is.
“And it’s all that old-school football. I mean, in AFC North – with a game like this week, too – you need a guy like that.”
The Steelers will visit the Cleveland Browns in a pivotal AFC North showdown on November 19. Watt shared that Roberts is able to set a tone for important matchups such as the one the team will face in Week 11 without saying all that much.
“Kwon [Alexander] was a guy that was very energetic, very vocal and ‘E-Rob’ is more of a quiet guy, but he’s able to deliver messages with how he plays the game,” said Watt.
Long, who was teammates with Roberts in New England during 2016, shared a similar practice story from Roberts’ rookie season.
“It was like one of those tackling drills where we’re just fitting up and he caught me right on the butt and I went over to Matt Patricia I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m good bro.’ Elandon Roberts is as hard a hitter as there is in the game dude,” said Long.
Steelers ‘To Lean on’ Roberts at Inside Linebacker
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that the team has no plans to sign another inside linebacker. That means the responsibility of replacing Holcomb and Alexander will mostly fall on Roberts.
“We’re going to lean on Elandon Roberts,” Tomlin told reporters on November 14. “That’s why we brought him here. He’s a defensive quarterback in mentality. He’s a really good communicator, a really good above-the-neck player. Does a really good job in those areas.
“We haven’t been playing him in some situational or possession down moments. Might expand his role in some of those areas for the benefit of communication and fluidity.”
Roberts is at his best in run defense. But the Steelers will likely deploy him in passing situations as well going forward.
Fellow inside linebacker Mark Robinson is expected to play more as well. Tomlin said Robinson is “at the front of the line” to have an expanded role during the second half of 2023.