He might not be the next James Harrison, but Steelers’ Olasunkanmi Adeniyi looks the part
It isn’t the easiest to spell or pronounce, but Olasunkanmi Adeniyi has a name you won’t forget.
The number he was assigned makes the Steelers rookie linebacker stand out, too.
An undersized, undrafted, high-motor edge rusher from a Mid-American Conference school wearing No. 92 for the Steelers? Where have we heard that before?
“I wore No. 9 in college,” Adeniyi said after an organized team activity session this week, “so I just figured (the Steelers) probably wanted to give me a ninety-something. And then coming from a MAC school as well, they probably just threw it out there for me.”
The Steelers, of course, had a rather high-profile No. 92 outside linebacker for a good part of the past decade-plus.
“Most definitely, I know about James Harrison,” Adeniyi said, his eyes lighting up, of the Steelers great and Kent State grad. “Being an edge rusher and being a smaller guy – James Harrison is (6 feet tall) and a similar kind of build, so obviously I have to look up to him. I look up to guys like him, (Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher) Melvin Ingram and guys like that and try to model my game after them.”
Adeniyi’s full name is pronounced “OH-la-suhn-KAHN-mee ah-DAY-nee” – though he goes by “Ola” for short. Whatever you call him, the MAC named him an all-conference pass-rusher last season when he had 20 tackles for loss and 8 ½ sacks for conference champion Toledo.
Considered a possible late-round draft pick, the Steelers were happy scoop up Adeniyi as a free agent after the draft ended.
Adeniyi was just as pleased.
“After I went undrafted, I just kind of weighed my options – and the Steelers called,” Adeniyi said. “They’d showed me love during the process already, and… just thinking about being coached by (position coach) Joey Porter – who had a tremendous, tremendous career playing for the Steelers – I just kind of figured this spot was the best place for me and best opportunity for me.”
Was told I couldn’t chase my dreams and work towards my degree at the same time. I laughed and said ‘I do this’. Now I’ve signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steeler and will be graduating in a week. All glory to God pic.twitter.com/O7ytOLlU2B
— Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (@Love_Ola_9) April 28, 2018
Though odds remain long for an undrafted player to make an immediate impact, Adeniyi has potential opening at his position after the departures of Harrison and veteran Arthur Moats from the outside linebacker corps. After starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree and top backup Anthony Chickillo, there is an opening for at least one more outside linebacker on the 53-man roster, plus practice-squad openings.
And though it might seem strange for the Steelers to have a No. 92 on the practice squad (Harrison is the team’s career sacks leader), remember that that’s how Harrison got his start with the team (though he wore No. 93 as a rookie).
Also, this isn’t even the first time someone other than Harrison has worn No. 92 for the Steelers since Harrison took the number in 2004: nose tackle Hebron Fangupo wore No. 92 in 2013 when Harrison was playing one season for the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to the NFL’s official draft biography on him, Adeniyi isn’t the prototype in terms of size, strength or NFL-level athleticism. But he has an aggressive style that gives him a chance to stick with the Steelers at what has been the franchise’s traditional glory position rushing passers.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, OLB, Toledo, in 2017, had 8.5 sacks. He’s a sleeper and is a solid addition as an UDFA. Nice siging by Steelers! pic.twitter.com/FB74EwnONL
— Steel Legends (@Steel_Legends) April 30, 2018
“The outside linebacker role here is what sets the tone for the defense,” Adeniyi said. “If you don’t have good outside linebackers, it’s going to be falling apart because in a 3-4 scheme you have to have two guys out there who can set the edge and rush the passer.
“Veteran guys like T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, ‘Chick,’ are guys I can look up to and try to get some tips, pieces here and there that I can use.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.