Ulysees Gilbert, Tuzar Skipper the other rookies part of Steelers linebackers corps
One-third of the linebackers on Pittsburgh Steelers season-opening roster are rookies. One, No. 10 overall pick Devin Bush, was assured of making the team. The others had to show enough to do so.
A pair of Mid-American Conference standouts, Ulysees Gilbert and Tuzar Skipper, were playmakers throughout training camp and the preseason. Each defied the odds and was rewarded with a spot on the 53-man roster.
“Very thankful,” Gilbert said, “just to get a chance. I am happy to just get here and get started.”
Gilbert is a speedy inside linebacker who played at Akron. Skipper is a strong-bodied outside linebacker from Toledo. Whereas Gilbert was a sixth-round pick, Skipper not only wasn’t drafted, he wasn’t even signed until after his second tryout at an NFL rookie camp.
Both, though, sweated out last weekend’s final roster cuts. Like all NFL teams, the Steelers faced a 4 p.m. Saturday deadline to trim from 91 players to 53.
Sutton Smith and Ulysees Gilbert, a pair of sixth-round draft picks, and Tuzar Skipper, signed out of a rookie minicamp tryout, are vying for one — at most, two — openings at linebacker for #Steelers https://t.co/Mq3jrwwXe9
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) August 28, 2019
“It’s been crazy,” said Skipper, who had five sacks in four preseason games. “Just praying and hoping you make the team, that you don’t get a phone call within that 48-hour period. How ironic is that? The time you don’t want to hear anything, that’s good news, but when you do hear something that’s bad news.”
Skipper’s phone ringer is of a duck. Every time he heard quacking early Saturday, his heart skipped a beat.
Gilbert could have been spared some nervous moments with better communication.
“One of the agents for the agency knew since 11 a.m., and he didn’t tell my agent so I was kind of just out and not knowing when we knew the whole time,” Gilbert said. “I just tried not to think about it too much and let God take care of it.”
Skipper and Gilbert recognize their most immediate impact for the Steelers will be on special teams — if they earn a “hat” to play in games at all, that is.
Undrafted rookie Tuzar Skipper making most of opportunities with Steelers
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 18, 2019
Gilbert’s roster spot might have been clinched when he blocked a field goal in the preseason finale Aug. 29. In that game, Skipper played extensively on special teams for the firsttime, and he responded with a pair of tackles in kickoff coverage.
Though each already had spent about three months with the Steelers — counting rookie minicamps and organized team activities and minicamp, training camp and preseason games — that Gilbert and Skipper survived into September was not taken lightly.
This week, while at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, they’re part of preparations for a game against the defending Super Bowl champions.
“It feels different, I’m not gonna lie,” Gilbert said. “It feels different just seeing a lot of people gone because you play with a lot of guys for (three) months. … So it’s different, but it’s part of the process, part of the game. I am just happy that I am here.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .