Steelers LB Ulysees Gilbert sees opportunity in front of him

Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert was having a favorable rookie season in 2019 when that all came crashing to a halt.

The Akron product, drafted by the Steelers with the third of their three sixth-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, suffered a back injury that abruptly put an end to his season. It was a nagging injury that had been an issue since college and got worse when he came into the league. Gilbert toughed it out for as long as he could, but when tests revealed a fractured L5 vertebra in his spinal cord, he was placed on injured reserve in November.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about Gilbert’s maturation after making some good plays in training camp. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize him as a second-year player because he missed so much time in year one,” Tomlin said in a Tuesday press conference. “Hopefully because he’s been part of the program and been in the building that there are some residual benefits from it. But in terms of play or exposure to play, he doesn’t have as much experience as some of the others in his [draft] class because of injury.”

Gilbert feels that, though his season was cut short, it still had a lot to offer.

“I grasped a lot [last year] because I had a lot of good veteran guys in front of me that helped me along the way like Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich and [Vince] Williams,” Gilbert said in a Tuesday press conference. “I just watched how those guys played and listened to everything they said in meet rooms, as well as on the field. I looked for how I could improve my game and keep what I already had at a high level.”

Gilbert said that he saw an opportunity when the Steelers released Barron and Matakevich and didn’t address the inside linebacker position in the draft or free agency. He knows it’s ultimately up to the Steelers to decide if and where he fits in the scheme of things. But he’s determined to show them that he has what it takes.

“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll put my best foot forward,” Gilbert said. “I’m taking it day by day and thankful for any opportunity I do get, and I’ll be ready when they call my name.”

Gilbert pointed to T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Williams as the best guys to observe and learn from. “Watching how those guys work and how they carry themselves… it’s a blessing to have those guys in front of me to learn the ropes.”

Before his injury, Gilbert was making a name for himself on special teams. In seven games, he led the unit in snaps with 150 and posted five tackles.

Though we’re just a month away from the start of the Steelers 2020 season, it’s too soon to tell what role Gilbert will play. At best, he’ll play in a rotational role behind Devin Bush and Williams. At worst, he’ll get right back to being the special teams standout he was in 2019 while he continues to develop.

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