For Markus Golden, putting on the black and gold has been a long time coming.
Golden, signed by the Steelers last week to serve as the team’s third outside linebacker, spoke at OTAs for the first time Tuesday. And he made it clear — Pittsburgh is a welcomed landing spot for him.
“I’ve always been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan,” he said. “I love the way they do things. I actually wanted to come here when I was coming out from the draft years ago.”
And it’s not just lip service. Golden can take you back through the Steelers archives, particularly at the position he plays.
“I know the rich history of linebackers here,” he said. “James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. I’ve just always loved the Steelers defense. Troy Polamalu. All those guys, man. They play like I play, and I try to mock my game after those guys. Just flying around on the field and making plays all over the field.”
In nine years with the Cardinals and Giants, Golden has racked up 47 sacks. But he’s coming off just 2.5 sacks last season, his final in his second stint in Arizona.
“Football,” he explained of the struggles. “Some days you come out, some seasons you come out, and you get a lot of sacks. Some seasons you come out and you work just as hard as you did that season before and the sacks don't fall in your hand.
“And that's what I do it for, man. That's why I love the game. It ain't going to always go your way. But you can’t pout about it. You got to get back in the lab and work, and that's what I'm going to do.”
Golden has a loose connection to a new position mate, TJ Watt, after having played with his brother, JJ, in Arizona. He also played with Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson, and is quite familiar with Steelers outside linebackers coach Denzel Martin, who is in his first season in that role.
“Me and him was college roommates,” Golden said with a big smile. “It felt good to be able to reunite with him.”
He also has a prior relationship with Mike Tomlin, having had dinner with Tomlin during the draft process in 2015 while coming out of Missouri. And he’s kept a connection with the Steelers’ coach ever since, perhaps helping facilitate this union.
But, despite the feel-good nature of his first OTA, Golden does walk into a situation that has been, at times, difficult for players in his position to handle. He will fill in for Watt and Alex Highsmith — proven starters in their primes. And snaps could be limited.
Others haven’t been able to acclimate to the reduced role. Melvin Ingram couldn’t, and was sent packing mid-season. Malik Reed was brought on late last year following Watt's pec injury, and never really made an impact.
So finding someone who can accept that role seems to be a challenge for the Steelers. But Golden indicated that no playing time promises were made when he came on his visit to Pittsburgh — something that appeared to be a point of contention with Ingram two years ago.
“See, I don't need all that because I know how football is, man,” he said. “You can sit here and tell somebody anything. Of course you want to hear stuff, but at the end of the day, I know how football is. Anything can happen. So what I'm going to do is go hard every day, come to work every day, learn from these guys. And when the time comes, rather I play one play, rather I play 30 plays, I'm going to go hard.”
With the signing, Golden provides Pittsburgh with much needed depth at the position. Watt, as good as he's been, has dealt with multiple injuries in his career. Highsmith is entering the final year of his contract, as well. Those two have posted big sack numbers in recent seasons, and Golden wants to turn that dominant tandem into a trio.
“You watch the Pittsburgh Steelers on game film, and everybody is flying around, everybody is punching at the ball, everybody is trying to get after the quarterback.
“I watch those guys a lot, man. They some dogs. I fit right in with that. I'm going to be ready to get out there and hunt with them.”