PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL in sacks last season, largely centered around a three-man rotation at outside linebacker.
A key piece in that rotation, Bud Dupree, has since moved on, but T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith remain. Melvin Ingram is seeking a fresh start in Pittsburgh and the Steelers hope the veteran can serve as a key piece in the team’s outside linebacker rotation.
“You always want to have three guys that can play, and we did last year,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “Alex did a good job filling that role when Bud was here, so we played all three of them quite a bit. We think we’ve got three now that are capable of playing for us, so we can rest each other.”
Ingram enjoyed nine seasons with the Chargers, but he struggled last year and played in just seven games because of a knee injury. The 32-year-old is looking to recapture his Pro Bowl form in his first season with the Steelers.
“I feel like this is a new place for me,” Ingram said. “It’s a new place and a new start.”
Ingram is also wearing a new number. He wore No. 54 for eight seasons with the Chargers, but he switched to No. 8 in Pittsburgh for a number of reasons.
“I already knew No. 6 was going to the punter, but I would’ve loved to have it,” Ingram said. “The first time I ever played football, my number was 44, so four plus four is eight, and Kobe (Bryant) is one of my favorite athletes.”
The Steelers signed Ingram for depth at outside linebacker a week before training camp.
Watt and Dupree formed one of the top pass-rushing tandems in 2020, as the Steelers led the league in sacks for the fourth consecutive season. Dupree tore his ACL midway through the season and then signed with Tennessee in free-agency. Watt finished as runner-up for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and Highsmith filled in for Dupree on the right side of the defense to close out his rookie season.
The Steelers hope Watt continues his elite-level play, Highsmith takes a jump in his second season and Ingram can fill the void left by Dupree.
“He knows how to play,” Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin said of Ingram. “He’s a veteran and you feel his veteran presence. He looks like a guy who’s done this for awhile at this level.”
Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler with Los Angeles, finished with 49 sacks in nine seasons, including 10.5 in both 2015 and 2017. Ingram didn’t record a sack in 2020 and missed nine games because of injury, including two separate stints on the reserved/injured list, as his season ended after a Week 11 win against the New York Jets.
Ingram insisted that his knee is “perfectly fine,” and he would’ve been healthy enough to participate in workouts had he signed with the Steelers earlier in the offseason.
“My body feels great,” Ingram said. “I love football and I still have a lot left in me. I had an injury, but that’s part of the game … it’s a physical sport. Everything is healed and I’m back to being me.”
In 2019, Ingram passed Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and moved into sole possession of No. 4 on the Chargers’ all-time sacks list. Ingram once said that he and Chargers’ standout defensive end Joey Bosa could be the best rushing duo in the NFL.
He wants to do the same with Watt in Pittsburgh following a rocky 2020. Watt previously worked with Ingram at the Pro Bowl and he regularly watched Chargers’ game when older brother Derek played in San Diego and Los Angeles.
“He is one of the premier rushers in the league,” Watt said. “I am just excited to have a guy like Melvin in our rotation and in our room. I’ve watched a lot of his film over the years and he’s a guy I can learn from, too. He’s a player that has a lot of burst off the line of scrimmage, he’s got a phenomenal spin move, and just seeing him in person, he’s a colorful guy and I’m excited to work with him.”
Ingram is excited to be in the mix on the outside.
“I always knew the Steelers were a great team, but when I came and met with everyone, it was amazing,” Ingram said. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms. This is a place that I felt I could call home and it’s a place where I can come in and fit in.”
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