The mood around the National Football League seemed to shift when the Steelers landed former Pro Bowl linebacker Melvin Ingram. Hundreds of tweets trying to rank a perspective starting edge duo of T.J. Watt and Ingram popped up on the Internet and even national media types got in on the action. But these people are forgetting one glaring detail: The Steelers didn't sign Melvin Ingram to fill a starting spot but to fix an issue with depth at outside linebacker.
The Steelers have already drafted and begun the development of Alex Highsmith. The 2020 third-round pick put together a nice little rookie season for himself despite not being looked upon to play big minutes until injuries forced him into the lineup. Highsmith has taken some fairly significant strides this offseason, looking physically leaner while reportedly weighing in six pounds heavier. The 23-year-old is primed for this opportunity to start in Week 1 opposite of T.J. Watt.
The reason Melvin Ingram has been brought into the fold comes down to a couple issues. Number one, he provides the Steelers with a veteran presence with a high upside. In the event Highsmith isn't prepared to carry the load of being the full-time stater, then Ingram can step in. Secondly, T.J. Watt is a maximum effort edge rusher, meaning to be at his best he needs to be rested. Watt plays somewhere in the range of 80-90% of the snaps of an NFL game and needs to be spelled every couple of series. The other factor comes down to the Steelers depth at outside linebacker was simply not good enough. Cassius Marsh was a liability when teams run the ball and Quincy Roche needs time to develop his game.
The Steelers don't need a ton out of Melvin Ingram if Watt and Highsmith stay healthy. You are looking at 12-15 snaps per game on average for him as the swing OLB. Surely he has that in him at age 32. A good and much-needed signing.— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) July 19, 2021
Ingram represents a linebacker that has run into some injury issues the past couple seasons and has the opportunity to get healthy in a smaller role in Pittsburgh. He’ll likely play 30-50% of the defensive snaps each game, either as a sub or in certain packages. If he can stay healthy, Ingram may set himself up for one more pay day before he hangs his cleats up. If that next pay day is not with the Steelers, then they are in line for the corresponding compensatory draft pick. The Steelers extensive special teams depth also means the 32-year-old won't need to cover a single kick, and can just be a defensive specialist. Think James Harrison by the end of his run, but a better leader.
But what do you think? How should the Steelers divvy up the defensive snaps for the outside linebackers? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.