By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Despite growing up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, Thaddeus Gibson really wasn’t a Browns fan, and he didn’t much follow the NFL.
Actually, Gibson, a defensive end from Ohio State, noted that he began cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years. That was fortuitous, because the Steelers selected Gibson with their fourth-round pick Saturday in the NFL Draft.
“I followed a lot of basketball, but I can honestly say that I never was a huge Browns fan,” Gibson said. “I became a Steelers fan maybe a year or two ago.”
Gibson will be an outside linebacker with the Steelers and was the second such player the club drafted among their opening four selections.
“He played some defensive end, like a lot of the guys that we take at outside linebacker, but they do some similar things that we do on defense,” Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. “So, it’s not like we’re seeing him at the position for the first time. … This guy has stood up in their packages.
“And he has done some of the things that we’re going to ask him to do. (And) anytime you can get a good player, you take him. I don’t think you can have too many good players. So, what we do defensively and what he can do on special teams, a guy like Thaddeus can always help you.”
Butler noted that an evaluation by the Steelers includes early-season film, as well as late-season, and while he was not impressed by Gibson at the outset the young player showed extensive improvement by the end of the year.
“He really improved from the beginning to the end of the season in terms of rushing and getting to the ball carrier,” Butler said. “I was kind of disappointed when I started watching him, but he kind of grew on me as he got better. So, we look for him to improve more than he did this year when he gets here.”
Gibson did not play much early in his career at Ohio State, but he really blossomed as his career progressed. He started 23 of 35 total games with the Buckeyes, including 13 on the left side and 10 on the right, and was an All-Big Ten selection as a redshirt junior last fall with four sacks, 13 total stops behind the line, two forced fumbles, two recovered and one interception.
“I’m very happy about this, and … I’m happy to be playing for a defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau) who went to Ohio State,” Gibson said. “It’s just a blessing to go to Pittsburgh where there have been a lot of great linebackers and still have a lot of great linebackers.”
Gibson spoke with the Steelers at the NFL Combine, and it was a good meeting. The Steelers also attended his pro day at Ohio State, but there was no indication that the club would draft him at all let alone in the fourth round. But with a tremendous up-side, Gibson became an attractive pick for the Steelers.
“Through hard work and dedication and being committed to getting better, that’s something that I’ve always tried to do since I arrived at Ohio State,” Gibson said. “The defensive coaching staff pushed us to get better, and … just playing over the tight end was the key for me.
“The technique was different and the pass-rushing ability, I had to learn as I went along. It was different as the left defensive end than it was for me on the right side. … I also was told that the Steelers need me to play special teams, even though I really didn’t play them much at Ohio State.”
Gibson is listed at 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds.