Ahead of the Week 6 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Pittsburgh Steelers again appear perilously thin in the secondary for a second straight week.
Injuries are running rampant on the Steelers defensively, forcing a number of elevations from the practice squad. With Ahkello Witherspoon still working his way back from a hamstring injury, Cameron Sutton dealing with hamstring and groin issues, and Levi Wallace in concussion protocol, the Steelers might have to turn to the practice squad again for an elevation or two against the Buccaneers.
Maybe the Steelers could turn to the player ranked the NFL’s top practice squad player across the league by CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso, that being cornerback Mark Gilbert.
Previously, the Steelers elevated cornerback Josh Jackson the last two weeks, but according to Trapasso, Gilbert is the top player on his Practice Squad Power Rankings, which dropped Friday morning.
Through five games, the Steelers sit 25th in the league in points allowed defensively, and are 16th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA on the defensive side of the football. Not great! Add in the injuries in the secondary and the continued absence of star outside linebacker T.J. Watt and it’s clear the Steelers need to continue to be creative and try various things defensively.
In Trapasso’s eyes, that includes giving Gilbert a shot.
“For the first time in a while, the Steelers need a jolt of energy on defense. Yes, THE STEELERS of all organizations, need a defensive shakeup. And they can get one that features a little City of Pittsburgh flair,” Trapasso writes regarding Gilbert. “I added cornerback Mark Gilbert and placed him at No. 1 in this week’s PSPR. Who is Mark Gilbert? He just so happens to be the cousin of Pittsburgh Panthers legend Darrelle Revis. At Duke, Gilbert appeared to be potential first-round pick after a six-interception, 15 pass-breakup 2017. Then he was ravaged by injures his next two seasons in Durham, North Carolina, and plummeted to the ranks of the undrafted.
“No idea is a bad idea for Pittsburgh’s defense entering Week 6, and it’s time to give Revis’ cousin an opportunity.”
The fact that the Steelers haven’t elevated Gilbert yet, despite being very familiar with him, might say more about him than the current state of the secondary, but I digress.
The Steelers re-signed Gilbert to the practice squad on September 30, shoring up some depth on the 16-man practice squad.
Gilbert was previously signed to the Steelers’ practice squad after final roster cutdowns in early September. An undrafted free agent out of Duke in 2021, Gilbert initially signed with the Steelers as a UDFA and spent the summer with the team. He was released at final cutdowns and placed on Pittsburgh’s practice squad but poached off it by the Detroit Lions in mid-October, landing on the Lions’ 53-man roster late in the season.
He appeared in eight games for the Lions last year, making three tackles. He forced an overtime fumble on WR Diontae Johnson in a tie against the Steelers last season.
Gilbert was previously cut from the practice squad three weeks after signing with the Steelers for wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson on Sept. 20, who has since been released, before re-signing 10 days later.
His experience in the league, and his tape coming out of college from Duke in 2021 has Trapasso clamoring for the young cornerback to get a shot on a Steelers defense that is in the midst of some struggles.
“I vividly remember being so excited about Gilbert in my first year scouting draft prospects for CBS Sports. He had that dazzling 2017, had the NFL bloodlines — beyond Revis, his uncle Sean Gilbert was a Pro Bowler in 1993 — and it’s always fun rooting for the underdogs, and Gilbert certainly was one of those as a defensive back from Duke,” Trapasso writes. “Then those damn injuries hit. However, he managed to rebound from them to run 4.48 with a 36-inch vertical and a 130-inch broad jump at his pro day. HELLO! Gilbert is explosive and, most importantly, healthy! He needs a chance in Pittsburgh.”
Maybe Week 6 against Tampa Bay at home at Acrisure Stadium is the game that Gilbert gets his shot with the Steelers in a regular season game, especially with Sutton and Witherspoon listed as DNPs on Wednesday and Thursday, and Wallace limited Thursday after missing practice Wednesday.