The Pittsburgh Steelers have a plan, and they are definitely sticking to that plan.
I wrote about the Steelers rather obvious rebuilding plan as it became more and more apparent throughout last offseason. The Steelers are focused on adding players that fit a particular profile.
Talented individuals, ranging in age from 24 to 28, with plenty of starting experience, ready to provide proven production for which ever franchise rewards them with their second professional contract. Based on their youthful experience and performance, they are conceivably capable of growing with a similar supporting cast into serious championship contenders in the near future.
The Steelers have surrounded these recent free agency additions with talented draft picks and undrafted gems like Kenny Pickett, Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and Jaylen Warren; as they continue to build on a foundation of All Pro talents in Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. You can include emerging superstar Alex Highsmith as an important cog into the Steelers potential championship aspirations, especially if they can extend him this offseason.
The Steelers have stuck to their rebuilding values through the early portion of free agency. The Steelers seek to retain their own if and when it's financially feasible. When it's not, or the Steelers feel an upgrade is required, they follow the aforementioned parameters, all while maintaining financial flexibility.
The inside linebacker position has been a focal point of the Steelers offseason thus far. The Steelers entered free agency with only Myles Jack and Mark Robinson under contract. Many people assumed, myself included, that the Steelers would be able to re-sign Robert Spillane to a team friendly deal. The Las Vegas Raiders threw a monkey wrench into those best laid plans.
Suddenly the Steelers were left out in the cold at a position of serious need, with plenty of desirable targets flying off the board. The Top 5 targets at the position on my free agency wish list were already off the board by Tuesday evening, leaving the Steelers faithful fanbase feeling flabbergasted and more than a little concerned. I tried to ease those troubled minds by pointing out a possible under the radar potential signing in Drue Tranquill.
Tranquill definitely fit the Steelers aforementioned prospect profile, but the Steelers had another target in mind all along. Turned out to be a player that I hadn't even considered, or even heard mentioned as a possibility by other individuals who devote too much time and effort to such things. The surprise new addition appears to be a perfect fit by all accounts, and would have been predictable if I would have taken the Andy Weidl effect into account.
Cole Holcomb was predestined to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. Weidl was very familiar with Holcomb's impressive skill set from his tenure with the Washington Commanders.
Holcomb checks all the boxes of what I look for in a Steelers inside linebacker. The young man is athletically gifted, scoring a Relative Athletic Score of 9.64 during the pre-draft process. He ran a 4.51 forty, and had an 11' broad jump. Holcomb stands a shade over 6'1" and reportedly weighs over 240 lbs after adding functional strength and muscle mass through his insane work ethic on full display since entering the NFL four years ago.
As excited as I am over Holcomb's athleticism, I am even more intrigued by his intangibles. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Holcomb's work ethic has been on full display since he was a freshman walk-on for the North Carolina Tarheels.
It speaks volumes about a player's competitive desire to transform one's body from collegiate walk-on afterthought, all the way to NFL free agent earning your second professional contract, and the personal security that goes with it.
The Steelers already have one of these hard work success stories in Alex Highsmith, and I will take every player with that level of commitment and intestinal fortitude that the Steelers can acquire. You can never have too many of these type individuals, because that level of intensity is contagious, and the foundation upon which championships are built.
Holcomb has that type of intensity, which makes him a natural leader. Tomlin might have to say whoa, but he will never have to say sic um. Holcomb consistently attacks the action, faithfully moving towards the chaos. He doesn't shadow box or tango with blockers, choosing instead to violently engage to close running lanes.
Holcomb has played middle linebacker in Washington's 4-3 thus far in his NFL career, and his pass coverage has been inconsistent at best, even with his above average speed and athleticism. I believe he is capable of showing rapid improvement in the Steelers 3-4, especially with more realistic coverage expectations than he experienced in Washington.
Many fans view Holcomb as Robert Spillane's replacement, but I view him as Devin Bush's desperately needed upgrade. Holcomb is a Mack in my opinion, and will prosper as a movement linebacker in the Steelers scheme, rather than a run thumper expected to regularly engage guards to make a living. I am not saying that he is incapable of doing so on occasion, but asking him to do so consistently isn't the optimal way of maximizing his effectiveness.
Holcomb is a student of the game, and willingly accepts the responsibility of wearing the green dot for his defense. He has shown the ability to do so without suffering the paralysis of over analysis. Even at his young age, he was voted a team captain by his teammates.
Holcomb's signing remains me very much of last year's free agency signing of James Daniels. An extremely talented individual with surprising experience for their age, having already achieved some rather impressive production, and conceivably approaching their proverbial prime under the right circumstances.
If that proves to be the case with Holcomb, then Omar Khan and company may have once again unearthed hidden value without sacrificing the Steelers financial future.