Port Arthur’s Elandon Roberts brings championship experience to Steelers LB group

Published 12:40 am Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Steelers hired a new inside linebackers coach this offseason, but Aaron Curry won’t be the only one bringing a keen eye for football to a position group that has lacked a lot over the last five years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Copyright ©, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2023, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Free agent signee Elandon Roberts adds seven years of NFL experience to the roster, and the first half of that tenure was spent with consummate professionals who taught him how to win. It’s no coincidence they did it within a winning program in New England, where Roberts was part of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl-champion teams.

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“The Dont’a Hightowers, the Devin McCourtys, the Patrick Chungs — that really molded me into who I am today because I took certain things from each and every one of them from a game standpoint, from a study standpoint, from a big-time leadership standpoint,” Roberts said Monday on a Zoom call with Pittsburgh reporters. “I saw how those guys went about business every day. I always show the utmost gratitude to them. I was texting Dont’a yesterday, telling him how much I appreciated him in my early career helping me out, getting me to this point, just being a very great mentor to me.”

Now Roberts can be a mentor to a new wave of Steelers linebackers. They essentially cleaned house after a 2022 season in which that unit produced zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries and just one sack (by Robert Spillane).

At 28, and turning 29 next month, Roberts is the oldest player in the room and second-oldest in the front seven behind Cam Heyward. He joins the team along with another NFL veteran in Cole Holcomb, but behind those two is second-year linebacker Mark Robinson. For as raw and inexperienced as Robinson is, he showed a propensity for contact in his rookie year, so it makes plenty of sense for Roberts to show him how to succeed in this league as an undersized late-round pick at linebacker.

“I’m gonna be myself,” said Roberts, who was a captain the last three years for Miami. “I’m gonna be a great teammate, I’m gonna get to know my teammates, be a great guy in and out of the building, be coachable. From the football side of it, I just don’t feel like it’s any secret. Going into my eighth year, I think people know: I’m physical, downhill, I love to hit. I feel like Pittsburgh’s style fits me perfect. You look at all their linebackers in the past, they’re physical guys.”

Many who watched the Steelers play the last few years would disagree with that evaluation, which is likely the very reason Roberts was brought here in the first place. Vince Williams played with a ferocity in the middle, and Spillane never met a collision he didn’t want, but Devin Bush’s ability to beat blocks and bring down ball-carriers was sorely lacking. Backups such as Ulysees Gilbert, Marcus Allen and Buddy Johnson never distinguished themselves, either.

Roberts himself had a career-high 4.5 sacks last year with the Dolphins, but it remains to be seen how the Steelers will use him. So far, he has flown into Pittsburgh to sign his deal, met a few coaches and players, and expressed his excitement for the opportunity. The X’s and O’s conversations will come later, though based on his resume, Roberts figures to be an early-down run-stuffer who can be a temporary fix to what ails the Steelers at linebacker.

“I don’t know the scheme just yet or how we do things here in Pittsburgh, but I just like to learn the whole defense from a conceptual standpoint,” Roberts said. “Offenses these days are doing a lot of things — shifts, motions and whatnot — so you can always end up on a certain side. I would like to learn it all. I’ve done that my whole career.”

Even if Roberts is simply a one-year bridge to Robinson or a rookie while Holcomb becomes their new three-down linebacker, the Steelers could use his presence. If they felt their linebacking corps was in need of a culture change as much it was a talent upgrade, Roberts seems to be a no-nonsense battering ram — they called him “The Hammer” in New England — who cut his teeth in what’s been described as one of the more militant franchises in the NFL.

If he can take what he picked up with the Patriots and improve the Steelers’ defense, that alone might help them finally hit on a free agent linebacker.

“With the younger guys coming in, I’ve always told them, ‘Whatever you need.’ Because it was given to me. Being able to play in those Super Bowls early, you start to understand that it ain’t easy,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into that. Being a younger guy, really watching those guys and seeing that, it’s a big hump to get back. … That goal, it takes one day at a time. It may sound cliche, but you have to focus on the day in front of you.

“Coming to this organization, that foundation has already been made. It’s my job to earn the trust of my coaches, my teammates, everyone in the building.”

Brian Batko: bbatko@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrianBatko.