In today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, veteran reporter Gerry Dulac wrote point-blank that the Steelers will keep eight linebackers on its roster this fall, because that is the same number they kept last year.
However, the Steelers kept nine linebackers the two previous seasons before 2009 on their opening-day roster. In fact, their roster is usually flexible among 8-9 linebackers and 6-7 defensive linemen to go with 9 defensive backs. All of those figures might go up due to young defensive talent fighting for the last spots this fall, while marginal players are doing so on offense.
More surprising is that Dulac contends rookie fifth-round pick Stevenson Sylvester is battling rookie fourth-round pick Thad Gibson for the eighth and final spot. However, those have been two of the more impressive players in Pittsburgh’s training camp and both played very well in the preseason opener against the Lions.
Gibson is currently the third outside linebacker behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, although Pittsburgh would likely move starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons outside in the event of an injury to one of the aforementioned superstars.
The Steelers have cut some recent fourth-round picks (e.g., Orien Harris, Fred Gibson). However, those players had poor training camps, while Thad Gibson has excelled. Fourth-round picks are rarely cut by any teams.
Meanwhile, Sylvester, who also excelled on special teams at Utah, would more likely be fighting Keyaron Fox for the No. 4 inside linebacker spot and final linebacker roster spot if the Steelers only keep eight.
However, I would bet Dulac as much as he desires that – barring injury – nine linebackers are on Pittsburgh’s opening-day roster, just like they were in 2007 and 2008 when the overall talent fighting for the final roster spots was nowhere near as good at linebacker as it is in 2010.