The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a plan since the 2020 NFL Draft, and even after the signing of Melvin Ingram, that plan hasn’t changed.
Nothing is guaranteed in football. In Pittsburgh, unless your name is Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt or Minkah Fitzpatrick, your job is about as safe as a stack of money protected by some feathers. If you didn't get the reference, no one is handed anything on the Steelers - everything is earned.
Ingram signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Steelers to join Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt. And when he signed, he told ESPN's Josina Anderson, "[Mike Tomlin] wants to win and that is what I am on. My role is my role. He just told me to come in and be me. Everyone knows how I play."
To me, that sounds like a player who isn't walking into a locker room with a starting job. It also doesn't mean he can't find his way to one.
The Steelers' plan remains for Highsmith to be the starting outside linebacker opposite of Watt. He's a strong second-year player with major upside and now two Pro Bowl veterans to lean on.
Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert knew they needed to replace Bud Dupree, so they went out and drafted a pass-rusher. From day one, Highsmith was supposed to step into the starting role this offseason.
Ingram, when healthy, is a starting outside linebacker in the NFL. At 32-years-old, however, it's difficult to make the case that he's worth a starting job over a 23-year-old with five starts under his belt.
Highsmith's job isn't set in stone. He might not need to win it, but he can certainly lose it, which should be enough to keep an eye on the two during training camp.
Expectations on whether or not the sophomore linebacker will lose his opportunity will come with time. For right now, there are reasons to feel good about him replacing Dupree without missing much of a step.
The University of Charolette walk-on is a third-round pick with two NFL sacks and 48 tackles. He'll bring 437 defensive snaps into year two and didn't receive many complaints when replacing an injured Dupree in 2020.
That being said, never assume in the business of football. Those who believe Ingram is the starter aren't totally wrong - yet.
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