Here is the next in a position-by-position series on the Steelers at the conclusion of the 2022 season as they head into the start of the NFL free agent period, which opens March 15.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (6)
Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, Mark Robinson, Tae Crowder, Marcus Allen
(free agent scorecard: 3 unrestricted, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen)
A LAST LOOK AT 2022
The Steelers signed Myles Jack following his release by the Jaguars in a salary-related move early in free agency, and he wound up leading the team in tackles with 104, adding three tackles for a loss and one quarterback hit despite missing two full games with a groin injury.
The nagging injury limited Jack's availability down the stretch, as he didn't play more than 34 snaps in a single game after Week 12.
Jack's playing time was already decreasing after the Steelers' Week 9 bye, as he played at least 73.6 percent of the team's defensive snaps prior to the bye week, but only topped that number once in the post-bye games.
The same could be said of pending unrestricted free agent Devin Bush, though his playing time peaked in the post-bye period when he played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in a Week 11 win at Indianapolis.
His snap count fell from a season-high 64 against the Colts to just five defensive snaps each in the team's final two games.
Bush, a first-round draft pick in 2019, finished third on the team with 81 tackles, two of which were for a loss, two quarterback hits and two pass defenses.
Robert Spillane saw his playing time increasingly go up as the season wore on. Spillane went from rotating with Jack and Bush early in the season, playing mostly in nickel and dime packages, to being a full-time player by season's end. Spillane played 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps in the Steelers' final four games.
He finished fourth on the team with 79 tackles, including four for a loss, a sack, two quarterback hits and four pass defenses.
Rookie Mark Robinson also saw more playing time down the stretch. After being active for just one game in the first 14 weeks of the season and seeing action on special teams, Robinson saw seven defensive snaps in a Week 15 win over Carolina, then started the team's final two games, recording nine combined tackles in wins over the Ravens and Browns, even though he played just 37 combined snaps in those games.
Veteran Marcus Allen didn't play a single defensive snap, but recorded 12 special teams tackles before landing on the Reserve/Injured List with an arm injury. Despite missing the final two games of the regular season, he played 230 special teams snaps, the fourth-most on the roster.
When Allen was injured, the Steelers signed veteran Tae Crowder off the practice squad of the Giants, but he did not appear in a game as a member of the Steelers.
ONE STAT THAT STOOD OUT
Where was the splash? Though they combined for 285 tackles on defense and special teams, they failed to intercept a pass, force a fumble or recover a fumble. As a group, they had one sack, that coming from Spillane in a Week 1 victory over the Bengals.
LOOK AHEAD TO 2023
This group could have a much different look to it in 2023. Bush, Spillane and Allen all are headed for free agency, and the Steelers could look to add more splash-play ability at the position.
Jack turns 28 in early September and has shown the ability to be a difference-maker in the past. He recorded 6.5 sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his first six seasons in Jacksonville.
The question is if the Steelers think Robinson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2022, is ready to step in. A running back – like Jack, who played running back at UCLA – until his final season in college, Robinson has ball-hunting instincts, but remains raw when it comes to diagnosing NFL passing games.
If he can make a big jump heading into his second season, he could be one of the steals of the 2022 draft. He'll obviously get that opportunity.
This is a group that needs to provide more splash. More sacks. More interceptions. More forced fumbles and recoveries.
Crowder has the experience Robinson lacks. The final pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, Crowder also converted from running back to inside linebacker in college, but did so as Jack did, after his freshman season.
Crowder appeared in 11 games, making six starts for the Giants as a rookie in 2020, then started all 17 games in 2021. He started New York's first eight games of the 2022 season before eventually being demoted to a backup and eventually landing on the practice squad.
But he's been productive in the NFL, recording 232 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in 41 career games, 31 of which were starts.
He could be part of the equation for the Steelers in 2023 as they sort out the position.