On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III met with the media to talk about returning to Ohio to play in Thursday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame game, noting that Canton is “almost like home” for the University of Akron product.
Pat Freiermuth is ‘Very Smooth’
But one of the most notable things he said concerned Pittsburgh’s rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, who was drafted in the second round out of Penn State (No. 55 overall). Asked what it’s like to try to cover Freiermuth in practice, Gilbert said: “He’s amazing. That’s all I’ve been saying every day. He’s just a great tight end. He’s very smooth in his routes, he’s very precise, and he has great hands—strong hands.”
But the third-year linebacker didn’t stop there.
“He’s been a great competitor to go against, because I know this year we play the Chiefs and he reminds me of Travis Kelce, just how smooth he is and how great [his] hands [are], so it’s great to go against someone like that every day.”
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Obviously, that’s very high praise for Freiermuth, as the 31-year-old Kelce is considered by many NFL observers to be the best tight end in the NFL. A 2013 third-round pick out of Cincinnati, Kelce has earned Pro Bowl honors six times during his eight-year career, and is a three-time first-team All-Pro. Last year he had arguably the best season of his career, catching 105 passes for 1,416 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But veteran teammates are often the first ones to recognize how good a rookie might be, as was the case last August when Steelers cornerback Joe Haden predicted that rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool was going to be “a problem” for defensive backs all around the league. Haden turned out to be prescient, as Claypool went on to catch 62 passes for 873 yards with nine touchdown receptions, adding two more touchdowns on the ground. That includes a record-setting outing in Week 5 in which Claypool scored four touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles, becoming one of only five rookies to have ever accomplished that feat.
It’s also worth noting that Gilbert isn’t the only other Steelers player who has publicly praised Freiermuth. For example, last week starting tight end Eric Ebron said Freiermuth has been “unfazed” by the level of competition in the NFL, and went on to predict that he and the rookie would “dominate” this season.
On the downside, it’s not a given that Freiermuth will make his NFL debut on Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys. That’s because he left practice early on Tuesday “and was spotted with his jersey and pads off and his shoulder heavily wrapped soon thereafter,” noted Chris Adamski in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Ulysees Gilbert: ‘My Back is Feeling Good’
As for Gilbert, he told the assembled media on Tuesday that he is finally healthy, having been limited to seven games during his rookie year (fractured vertebra in his back) and just four games in 2020. Last year, Gilbert experienced ongoing issues with his back, which landed him on injured reserve between November 4 and December 12. Soon afterwards he suffered an ankle injury that shelved him for the remainder of the season.
At the moment, Gilbert is second on the depth chart at left inside linebacker behind former first-round pick Devin Bush.
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