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Could Steelers OLB Anthony Chickillo become the next Mike Vrabel?

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Anthony Chickillo arrived in Pittsburgh last season to little fanfare. A sixth round selection from the University of Miami (212th overall), Chickillo was identified as a prospect, a 3-4 defensive lineman who would be tasked with making the conversion to outside linebacker.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have had a long history of drafting defensive lineman and converting them to outside linebacker. They've had successes: Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, and Lamar Woodley.

And they've had failures: Alonzo Jackson, Bruce Davis, and Steven Conley.

As with most, if not all of these players, the first step in securing a spot on the team by excelling on special teams, something Chickillo did during his rookie season. He recorded six tackles, forced one fumble, and recovered another.

He even had an opportunity to get in some snaps at linebacker during the team's season finale against Cleveland.

Entering his second season, Chickillo needs to further impress coaches and prove that he's ready to assume a larger role in the defense.

He'll have some competition, however. The Steelers made certain of that when they selected linebacker Travis Feeney from Washington in the sixth round of this year's draft. In terms of pure athleticism, Feeney's got the edge on Chickillo. He runs a blazing 4.5 40 and had 17.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks last season.

Making things even more challenging for Chickillo is the already crowded outside linebacking corps. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree look to be the starters, while Arthur Moats and James Harrison will continue rotating in. That doesn't leave much room for anyone else.

But hold the phone.

James Harrison just turned 38 earlier this month, making 2016 his likely career swan song. As for Jarvis Jones, the former first round pick has been a bit of a disappointment, so much so that the Steelers declined to pick up the option on his rookie contract. His future with the Steelers following this season is highly uncertain.

Chances are, there could be an opportunity for another player to slide into the ROLB spot next season.

Could that player be Chickillo?

Chickillo's situation is reminiscent of another former Steelers draft pick who made the switch from defensive lineman to outside linebacker: Mike Vrabel.

Vrabel was selected in the 3rd round in 1997 from Ohio State. He had more pedigree than Chickillo (he was a consensus All-American in 1996), but was in the same boat. He played mostly special teams during his first few years and received minimal playing time.

The Steelers couldn't figure out how to maximize Vrabel's abilities. He was, therefore, trapped behind Greg Lloyd, Donta Jones, and Carlos Emmons during the 1997, 1998, and 1999 seasons. In 2000, Joey Porter turned into Joey Porter and that was all she wrote for Vrabel's career with the Steelers.

He became a free agent following the 2000 season and signed with New England. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Bill Belichick figured out how to use Vrabel, and Vrabel went on to have an All-Pro career and star on three Super Bowl winning teams with the Patriots. He was named to the NFLs "All Decade Team" for 2000-2010.

Just like Vrabel, Chickillo is known for his toughness, his intelligence, and for having a "consistent motor, keeping the switch flipped on." Chickillo's also durable, having started the last 47 games of his college career.

Also, as with Vrabel and the Steelers, Miami never really figured out how to properly use Chickillo during his college career, yet he still managed to make plays.

This can be evidenced in a Miami vs. Louisville highlight video from 2014:

In a 3-4 defense, the ends are used primarily to provide push and contain the run, while freeing up the linebackers to make plays. Because of this, not only is Chickillo stripped of the potential to rush the passer, but he's also moved around the line constantly, never having a chance to settle into one position.

Despite this, he still manages to make a great play at the 2:32 mark, getting quick penetration and forcing a fumble.

Chickillo's constant line movement would at least suggest a certain versatility in his game, while his forced fumble shows an ability to make splash plays.

Hopefully for Chickillo, he's finally found the right position in Pittsburgh where he can use his natural abilities to their full effect. If he can put it all together, the sky could be the limit, and the Steelers could've finally found their next great outside linebacker.