Steelers gamble Chickillo can make transition to outside linebacker

In assessing the Steelers' shortcomings on defense prior to the NFL Draft, general manager Kevin Colbert emphasized the lack of a pass rush.

The Steelers selected Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round, hoping he will apply pressure off the edge. Then they used the 212th overall pick to add depth at the position.

The Steelers gambled by selecting Anthony Chickillo, who spent all four years at Miami (Fla) playing defensive end. He distinguished himself as run defender instead of a pass-rushing specialist.

On Monday, the Steelers signed the 6-foot-3, 267-pound Chickillo, who is confident he will effectively transition to outside linebacker, where the Steelers were inconsistent last year.

“I'm just going to work hard every day and do whatever they asked me to do,” said Chickillo, who had 47 starts with the Hurricanes.

Chickillo is flexible, but he was clear during his workouts for NFL scouts that he aspires to play outside linebacker. The Steelers were accommodating, opting to overlook his lack of experience at the position.

Colbert said he has no reason to believe Chickillo can't adjust to the new position and the change of pace in the NFL. But several scouts were not as impressed with Chickillo's technique or skills off the line of scrimmage.

At best, Chickillo might be a capable run defender, but he “may never be a great pass rusher,” NFL Draft analyst Mike Detillier said.

Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter thinks differently.

“I think he can fit the system with what we're going to do with him,” Porter said. “We'll find out his strengths and his weaknesses.”

The Steelers' pass rush was a weakness last season. They had only 33 sacks, and 7 1⁄2 came from retired outside linebacker Jason Worilds and another 5 1⁄2 by 37-year-old right outside linebacker James Harrison.

If numbers are telling, then Chickillo didn't impact the pass rush in Miami's 3-4 alignment. The Hurricanes were 68th nationally among FBS programs with 27 sacks, including three by Chickillo.

“In college, I didn't have a chance to rush much,” said Chickillo, who had 41 tackles. “We played a two-gap scheme, and I was more like one of the guys in the middle. But I have all the skills of a pass-rusher.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Chickillo is pass coverage. He has not had to do that since playing at Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla.

“It's new for me ... but I prepared for a lot before my pro day and the (NFL) Combine,” he said. “I'm happy the Steelers have faith in me. I'm not going to let them down.”

No one seems to have more confidence in Chickillo than Porter.

“I've seen him rush from a lot of different positions, inside and out,” Porter said. “(Outside linebacker is) something that won't probably come naturally to him. But it didn't come naturally to me when I played defensive end in college.

“Whenever you're taking these type of guys, you're already hoping on the upside. I think he's going to be a guy that we're willing to take the chance to see if he can do it.”

The Steelers, though, figured they fixed their pass rush when they drafted Jarvis Jones in the first round in 2013 and defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round last year. Together, they have four career sacks — one more than Chickillo had last year.

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