Many experts were surprised that the Pittsburgh Steelers — a team with a young offense, a thin defense, and uncertainty at the quarterback position — were able to finish 9-8 in 2022 and come within a game of a Wild Card berth. Mike Tomlin's teams always meet a certain standard, and to bet against the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers is foolish.

The team improved as the season went on, winning seven of its last nine games, and it will look to carry that momentum through to the 2023 season with some key off-season additions. One of the most significant needs the Steelers addressed through the draft and free agency was a lack of defensive depth.

Cole Holcomb (formerly with the Washington Commanders) and Elandon Roberts (Miami Dolphins) give the Steelers an upgrade at the inside linebacker position. Safety Keanu Neal (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (Minnesota Vikings) offer Pittsburgh strong veteran leaders in the secondary. On the defensive line, second-round pick Keanu Benton out of Wisconsin solidifies a unit that desperately needed an inside presence next to Cameron Heyward.

This is a much more balanced defense than last season, and it will be better prepared for the inevitable injuries that rack up throughout an NFL season. Still, even with these additions, one area that is still weak is the inside linebacker position. Holcomb and Roberts are an upgrade from the underwhelming duo of Devin Bush and Robert Spillane, who left the Steelers in free agency, but there is minimal depth behind them.

Backups Tanner Muse and Mark Robinson have a combined 29 tackles over three NFL seasons but are hardly dependable options. Muse offers an intriguing skill set as a former collegiate safety (4.41 40-yard dash time) but will see most of his playing time early via special teams. A dependable third inside linebacker is a must for a Steelers defense that often struggles to stay healthy.

With Steelers training camp beginning a month from now, here's how Pittsburgh can solidify the inside linebacker position.

1 perfect move to fill out Steelers' roster before training camp

Sign free agent ILB Zach Cunningham

Three years ago, Zach Cunningham led the NFL with 106 solo tackles and 164 combined stops while playing all 16 games for the Houston Texans. The linebacker has not hit that production level since. Last season, injuries limited Cunningham to just six games for the Tennessee Titans.

Even with his injury history, the former Titan is still just 28 years old and will be hungry to prove himself after a couple of down years. In Houston, Cunningham thrived in a 3-4 defense, using his speed to cover sideline-to-sideline while proving himself adept in pass coverage. Playing in Pittsburgh would offer the veteran backer a similar situation.

Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb are certainly a strong linebacking duo. Still, neither would be considered elite at their position, nor do they have significant experience playing as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Plus, there is no proven talent behind them.

A lack of inside linebacker play over the last few seasons has hindered the Steelers' defense. Former first-round pick Devin Bush never panned out. Robert Spillane was too one-dimensional as a run-stopper. Joe Schoebert could not offer the Pro Bowl-level play he previously demonstrated with the Cleveland Browns. Zach Cunningham is a low-risk, high-reward player who can push Roberts and Holcomb for a starting role and provide desperately needed depth at the ILB position.