Mark Robinson

Steelers LB Kwon Alexander Suffers Torn Achilles

The Steelers earned a close victory in Week 10, but it came at the expense of another significant injury on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Kwon Alexander suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

As a result of the injury, Alexander will be out for the remainder of the season. That news is especially significant given the fact fellow linebacker Cole Holcomb suffered a knee injury in Week 9 which required season-ending surgery. The pair comprised two-thirds of Pittsburgh’s three-man rotation at the LB spot, so their absences will be acutely felt for the second half of the campaign.

One of several new faces in the Steelers’ front seven, Alexander signed a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum in late July. That pact didn’t come with any guarantees with respect to playing time, but the 29-year-old provided at least an experienced depth option. Alexander had logged a 61% snap share heading into Week 10, a figure much higher than last year’s during his time with the Jets and one which was in line to increase with Holcomb no longer in the fold.

With Alexander out for the remainder of the year, Pittsburgh will be forced to turn elsewhere at their second inside linebacker spot. Currently, with Holcomb and Chapelle Russell on IR, and Alexander soon to join them, last year’s seventh-round pick out of Ole Miss, Mark Robinson, is the only inside backer on the active roster left to line up next to Elandon Roberts. Robinson spent most of his rookie season inactive before starting the final two games of the year. So far in his sophomore campaign, Robinson has played in every contest, mostly on special teams.

The only other player in the building designated as an inside linebacker on the team’s depth chart is former Packers seventh-round safety Tariq Carpenter. Pittsburgh signed Carpenter to their practice squad when he failed to make Green Bay’s 53-man roster in August and converted him to inside backer. He appeared in 14 games as a rookie last year, playing almost exclusively on special teams.

With so many injuries at linebacker, the Steelers will certainly be pressed to do something. One solution may be converting another safety or an outside linebacker to fill in at the position. Otherwise, Pittsburgh will likely be combing the free agent options for some possible depth or experience to supplement their current beleaguered group.

Contributions provided by Ely Allen

Latest On Steelers’ ILB Situation

The Steelers will have quite a different look at inside linebacker in 2023 than they had in 2022. Free agency took a toll on the room in the offseason but still helped them to reload a bit at the position. In a mailbag Q&A this week, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic addressed the question of whether or not Pittsburgh did enough to address the position this spring.

First, let’s address the losses. All three of the team’s top contributors at inside linebacker departed in free agency in the offseason. Myles Jack was heading into the second year of the two-year contract he had signed to join the Steelers last year, but the team, instead, decided to release the veteran linebacker to open up about $8MM of cap space. After being allowed to test his market in free agency, Devin Bush signed a one-year contract in Seattle. Lastly, Robert Spillane, who served as a spot starter and factored heavily into the defensive rotation last year, also found his way to free agency, departing for Las Vegas.

That left three holes atop the roster at inside linebacker, including two starting spots. For one spot, the team signed former Commanders linebacker Cole Holcomb. A fifth-round pick for Washington back in 2019, Holcomb was an immediate starter as a rookie. This wasn’t the first time that Holcomb had surpassed expectations as, in college, he earned a scholarship after initially walking on at North Carolina. He’s now started 48 of the 50 games he’s appeared in, but injuries have kept him from appearing in a possible 16 additional games. Most crucially, he missed 10 games in 2022 due to a knee injury in November and foot surgery that ended his season in December. If healthy, though, Holcomb can certainly perform as the team’s top linebacker. His best season saw him rank as the league’s 23rd best linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in 2020, and despite his injuries, he ranked 35th in 2022.

Another spot was filled by former Patriots and Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts. An eighth-year veteran, Roberts had a bit of a breakout year in 2022. After seeing his role diminish over his final years with the Patriots, Roberts found a way to improve over each season in Miami. Finally starting in every game of the season in 2022, Roberts recorded career-highs in total tackles (107), tackles for loss (10), and sacks (4.5) and tied a career-high in quarterback hits (6). He’s never graded out highly by PFF standards as a full-service linebacker, but last year, Roberts topped all NFL linebackers with an 89.2 pass rushing grade.

Pittsburgh is planning on filling the third hole internally by putting more responsibility on the shoulders of Mark Robinson to fill Spillane’s role from last year. A seventh-round pick for the team in 2022, Robinson only appeared in four games last season, making two starts in the final two games of the year. The Steelers have taken their time with Robinson, who had only played one season at linebacker in college after switching from running back. The team seems confident in Robinson’s ability to step up in Year 2. They relied on him last year in the team’s last two games against the Ravens and Browns, two run-heavy teams, and he may play a similar role this year.

For depth at inside linebacker, the team brought in Nick Kwiatkoski and Tanner Muse. Kwiatkoski has past experience as a full-time starter but hasn’t started a game since the 2020 season. Muse is primarily a special teamer.

So, did the Steelers do enough to address the losses at the position? It may be too soon to say whether they’ve successfully filled the holes in the roster. They did a lot, and the holes are filled, but whether they’ve been filled effectively has yet to be determined. Kaboly does think that the team has done enough to at least satisfy the demands of the roster. He doesn’t believe that the team will continue to pursue Kwon Alexander or other free agents, barring injury to the three players above. Unless Holcomb, Roberts, and Robinson make it clear that they can’t handle the duties of the position, Kaboly believes that “the 90 they have is the 90 they will bring to camp.”