While there might not be an opportunity for a new starter to emerge at outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree expected to command the starting roles this year, limited depth at the position should theoretically provide plenty of chances for the reserve players to prove their worth this season.
A relatively inexperienced outside linebacker group relied almost exclusively on Watt and Dupree in 2018, with Anthony Chickillo the lone option on the bench for most of the season after Olasunkanmi Adeniyi began the year on the physically unable to perform list. But even when he did return in Week 13, the undrafted rookie would see just 10 snaps on defense over the remaining five games, all of them coming in one game the Los Angeles Chargers.
Heading into his second season, the former Toledo product is hoping to be much more involved on defense on game day; focused on improving his coverage skills and adding to his pass rushing moves in an effort to prove he deserves more playing time when speaking to reporters during OTAs.
“I feel like I’m definitely good off the edge, speed rushing, but also want to add some counters just in case the tackle oversets and I’ll be able to come back and do little things like that. Swatting the hands, spin moves, just things like that.”
And despite recording an interception during practice, the young linebacker believes he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to his pass coverage.
“I probably dropped to the flats maybe once or twice my junior year since I declared early. Definitely this offseason as well I was also trying to work on that aspect of my game, because I never really did that at college. And last year I didn't really have the opportunity to do that. So, I tried to work on that this offseason as well.”
The Steelers decision to ignore his position in the early stages of the draft does not appear to have given Adeniyi any greater sense of security as a second-year player, regardless of the lack of other options at outside linebacker. Still feeling he has something to prove if he is to earn his roster spot again this year, Adeniyi is taking nothing for granted this offseason.
“I’m still considered a young guy, I don’t think I’ve earned that right to be called a vet yet, or anything such as that. So, I’m just gonna try and keep developing and hopefully as the time keeps going I develop into a better role and a better guy.”
“I was on IR for most of the season, so I don’t feel like I did anything at all. I’m trying to come in here and hopefully do the same thing I did last year, earn a spot.”
An impressive preseason in 2018 gave fans an indicator of what Adeniyi could do as a pass rusher, recording three sacks and nine tackles in the four games he played in. He also recorded two forced fumbles with two of those sacks. And if he can provide some help in coverage as well, the Steelers may yet another viable option at the position.