Training camps have officially opened for business across the NFL, but at times it can be hard to tell. Garnering meaningful information from these top secret practices is akin to drawing blood from a turnip. Truly a effort in frustration for those on the outside looking in.
Morsels of information trickle out of camp each day, but only if you know where to look. The small group of selected press in attendance have been clearly instructed what is allowed and what isn't. The Steelers brass are closely monitoring all the festivities from their vantage point.
One of the best sources of unencumbered information is individual player's Zoom or virtual interviews. Whether it's Vance McDonald praising Big Ben's recovery from elbow surgery, or Joe Haden warning that the opponents are going to have a problem on their hands with Chase Claypool this season, the players don't seem to have the same restrictions as everyone else.
I heard two tidbits of information about Steelers second year ILB Ulysees Gilbert lll on Tuesday, one from a press release and one from his Zoom interview after practice.
It seems that Gilbert has been flying around the field making plays right out of the gate this training camp, just like he did last season. His ability in pass coverage and to play sideline to sideline have been well documented. He demonstrated those abilities in Tuesday's seven on seven session.
Gilbert made a diving interception after blanketing the speedy Kerrith Whyte in coverage. His coverage was so tight actually that he plucked the ball right off Whyte's hands when he slightly bobbled the ball. He also achieved excellent coverage on his other responsibilities throughout the session per reports.
His performance was so impressive that one member of the press in attendance said he not only looked like the logical first inside linebacker off the bench, but like he had starter potential in the future.
That is a meaningful distinction, something that seemed unlikely for the undersized sixth round draft pick out of Akron.
After the Steelers brilliantly traded up to select the much needed Devin Bush out of Michigan with their first round pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, I was beyond stoked for two reasons. The first reason was because I had been praying for the Steelers to have the opportunity to select one of the Devins, and they got their man. Secondly, I thought the stars were aligned for the Steelers to select ILB David Long out of West Virginia in a later round.
Long seemed like the perfect backup for Bush, with both men having similar size and skill sets. I didn't want the Steelers to make the same mistake with Bush that they did with Ryan Shazier. If you are going to build your defense around a inside linebacker with elite movement skills, you better have a backup with similar abilities. The Steelers definitely didn't have such a backup after Shazier's injury, and their defense suffered mightily as a result.
I knew the Steelers had to have realized that was a mistake, and they would be interested in selecting Bush's understudy if available. My thought process was accurate, but I just had the wrong player in mind. David Long looked like a real baller for the Tennessee Titans last season, but I am thrilled to have Gilbert.
Gilbert flashed enormous potential during training camp last season, and during the preseason games. So much that he earned a roster spot. I felt comfortable with Gilbert as a valued backup. He was a strong special teams contributor to start the season, before a back injury derailed him midseason.
Gilbert's abilities jump off the film in my opinion, although I readily admit it is a small sample size. I used to feel that Gilbert was the perfect backup for Devin Bush, and in ways I still do, but apparently Gilbert plans on being far more than just a backup.