It only makes sense that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be in the market for a new inside linebacker. The Steelers have lost Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander, the team’s top players with the most snaps at the position, to season-ending injuries the past two weeks.
But at his November 14 press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin put the kibosh on the idea that his team will look to fill the inside linebacker hole through free agency.
“We’re not looking outside the organization to be quite honest with you as I stand here right now in terms of solutions regarding those issues,” Tomlin told reporters. “Man, we’ve got guys that we’re comfortable with.
“Some of our practice squad guys are there not because they’re developmental players, they’re there because they’re capable players. They’re just readying themselves for an opportunity.”
Tomlin stated that Walker will likely be signed to the active roster this week. Carpenter could play in Week 11 too. The Steelers elevated Carpenter from the practice squad for the Week 10 matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
Holcomb suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 9 against the Tennessee Titans. Alexander is also out for the season with a tore Achilles tendon, which he sustained on November 12 versus the Packers.
Steelers Linebackers ‘To Lean on’ Elandon Roberts
The Steelers completely revamped their linebacker corps this past offseason, signing Holcomb, Alexander and Roberts. Essentially, that left the team three starting caliber players for two inside linebacker positions.
Roberts is now the only one left healthy. So, it should come as no surprise that Roberts will be the group’s leader the remainder of the season.
“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.”
In his eighth NFL season, Roberts is best against the run. But Tomlin made it clear that Roberts also has the skillset to be a capable linebacker in coverage.
“He’s been an every down player,” Tomlin said. “Just because we haven’t utilized Elandon in that area doesn’t mean he is deficient.
“It’s just how we chose to divide the labor up in an effort to utilize the luxury of three very capable guys that we had at two positions.”
Tomlin added that Robinson is “at the front of the line” to receive an expanded role as well.
Robinson started the last two games of the 2022 season, but he had just 4 defensive snaps before Week 10. Against the Packers, he lined up for 41 defensive snaps with Holcomb and Alexander out most of the game.
Steelers Linebacker Options on Practice Squad
Tomlin repeated a few different times on November 14 that with the new rules since 2020, the Steelers no longer only have developmental players on the practice squad.
A great example of that for the Steelers is Walker. He’s played in 49 contests and started 20 games in his career.
“Walker is a guy that played in Atlanta and had 100-plus tackles or whatever a year ago in the National Football League,” Tomlin said. “He’s not on our practice squad for development.”
In 16 games, Walker posted 107 combined tackles, including 4 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hit and 1 sack last season. He also had 6 pass defenses and 2 interceptions.
Walker made it clear when speaking to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor that he will be ready to produce for Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always been that guy who had to wait and scrap and fight to get to the top,” Walker told Pryor. “If my opportunity is called, I’ll be ready.”
Tomlin did refer to Carpenter as a developmental practice squad player. But clearly, the team trusts him in certain situations too.
In his first game this season during Week 10, Carpenter played 10 snaps on special teams. He made 1 assisted tackle.
With Walker and Carpenter to support Roberts and Robinson, Tomlin appears to like the team’s chances of continuing its improved linebacker play this season.