The Pittsburgh Steelers have a significant issue at inside linebacker.
Their two players with the most snaps at the position — Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander — sustained season-ending injuries in back-to-back weeks. After Alexander left in the first quarter during Week 10, the Steelers had no choice but to insert second-year linebacker Mark Robinson.
Prior to Week 10, Robinson had played just 4 defensive snaps this season. He lined up for 41 on November 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
Robinson could start in Week 11, but the Steelers still desperately need depth at inside linebacker. With that in mind, the Bleacher Report NFL staff has connected Pittsburgh with a pair of veteran inside linebackers the past two weeks — Anthony Barr and Blake Martinez.
However, the Steelers already have a veteran linebacker on their practice squad in Mykal Walker. On November 13, the 26-year-old made sure to voice that he shouldn’t be forgotten about when the Steelers consider inside linebacker options.
“I’ve always been that guy who had to wait and scrap and fight to get to the top,” Walker told ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “If my opportunity is called, I’ll be ready.”
With Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb going down, former Falcons starting ILB Mykal Walker could be in line to make his season debut for the Steelers.
"I've always been that guy who had to wait and scrap and fight to get to the top. If my opportunity is called, I'll be ready."
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) November 13, 2023
Walker spent his first three seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. In 2022, he started 12 games, posting 107 combined tackles, including 4 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hit, 6 pass defenses and 2 interceptions in 16 total contests.
How LB Mykal Walker Could Fit on the Steelers Active Roster
With Holcomb out with a knee injury and Alexander sidelined due to an Achilles tear, the Steelers are left with only half of their opening day inside linebacker corps.
But the Steelers signed Walker to their practice squad as insurance on October 30, six days after the Las Vegas Raiders waived him. Now appears to be the right time for the Steelers to use that insurance.
Holcomb and Alexander combined to play 809 defensive snaps before their injuries in November. The Steelers desperately need more depth at inside linebacker on the active roster. With the team sitting at 6-3 and in the middle of a heated AFC North race, it would be best if that new depth has experience.
Walker played a career-high 769 defensive snaps for the Falcons last season. That was third most among Atlanta linebackers in 2022.
In his three-year career, Walker has played in 49 contests and started 20 of them. He has registered 187 combined tackles, including 5 for loss, 4 quarterback hits and 1 sack. He has also posted 3 interceptions and 11 pass defenses.
According to Pro Football Focus, Walker was average to above average against both the run and pass last season. That could make him one of the more intriguing options to help the Steelers replace Holcomb and Alexander.
In a perfect world, the Steelers will add an inside linebacker who will assist against the pass. Pittsburgh’s secondary struggled versus the Packers in Week 10 without Holcomb and Alexander for most of the game.
Steelers Have Some Options for Inside Linebacker
There are no great options available at this point in the season. The trade deadline has passed and players still on the free agent market are there for a reason.
But the Steelers do have a few options to chose from at inside linebacker.
Barr and Martinez have been floated as possibilities for the Steelers over the past week. Both are veterans who were once solid starters in the league.
All Steelers’ SI.com’s Noah Strackbein suggested Pittsburgh should consider bringing back Myles Jack. The Steelers released Jack in March after one season, and then he retired this offseason a week after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Walker, though, has some obvious advantages over those other three linebacker candidates. At only 26 years old, Walker is the youngest of the group. Though he hasn’t played this season, neither have those other three linebackers, and Walker is coming off his best NFL season in 2022.
Walker is also the only one of those linebackers who has spent time with the Steelers this season.