Melvin Ingram is bringing the "Mamba Mentality" to the Steel City. Shortly after signing with the Steelers, the 10-year veteran revealed that he would ditch his No. 54 jersey in lieu of No. 8. Ingram is currently the only Steelers' defender who has taken advantage of the league's new rules regarding jersey numbers.
During his first meeting with the local media, Ingram explained his decision to change jersey numbers. Part of Ingram's decision was influenced by Kobe Bryant, the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers legend who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020.
"This is a new place for me," Ingram said, via ESPN's Brooke Pryor. "New place, new start. Still the same me though. First time I ever played football, my number was 44. 4 + 4 is 8, and Kobe (Bryant) is one of my favorite athletes. Kobe year."
Ingram is hoping to do what Bryant did five times during his 20-year career: win a championship. The signing of Ingram certainly helps the Steelers' odds at competing for a championship in 2021. The Steelers signed the former Pro Bowl outside linebacker to help replenish their pass rush after losing Bud Dupree in free agency. The move should also take some of the attention off All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt, the league's leader in sacks in 2020.
Watt didn't hide his excitement when asked about Ingram joining the Steelers' huddle. Watt, who called the two-time Pro Bowl player "one of the premier pass rushers in the league," said several times that he was an admirer of Ingram's work during his years with the Chargers. Watt would watch Ingram while also keeping his eye on his younger brother, former Charger and current Steelers fullback Derek Watt.
"I am excited," Watt said during Pittsburgh's first week of training camp, via Steelers.com's Teresa Varley. "I worked with him during the Pro Bowl. ... He's just a player that has a lot of burst off the line of scrimmage. He's got a phenomenal spin move and just seeing him in person, he is a colorful guy and I am excited to work with him."
The 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Ingram's breakout season took place in 2015, when he recorded double-digit sacks for the first time while also forcing three fumbles. After tallying a career-high five forced fumbles in 2016, Ingram was selected to his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls in 2017. While injuries limited his availability (he appeared in just seven games) and productivity last season, Ingram said he feels "like a kid" as he enters his 10th season in the NFL.
"I love football, and my body feels great," Ingram said on Saturday, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I had an injury last year, but that's part of the game. It's a physical sport. Right now, I'm 100, 200% healthy. I feel amazing."
Like Watt, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had a positive Pro Bowl experience with Ingram. That experience undoubtedly contributed to Pittsburgh's interest in signing Ingram just before the start of training camp.
"We've seen him a lot over the years," Tomlin said, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "We're respectful of his body of work. But not only that, we were familiar with him in the draft. He's one of those guys that fit the profile. We studied him and got to know him through the Draft process, and usually, those are the guys that we end up doubling back to and having an interest in when they're available in free agency. So it makes the process an easy one.
"We also had the opportunity, I think in '17 when we coached the Pro Bowl, we had him down in Orlando and really got to know him some in that setting as well. So we felt really comfortable that he would be an easy fit as a man and as a player."
Tomlin said it's too early to decipher Ingram's role within Pittsburgh's defense. Ingram could start over second-year OLB Alex Highsmith, who played well after Dupree went down with an injury late in the 2020 season. Ingram may also be asked to provide quality snaps behind Watt and Highsmith. Regardless, Ingram will surely make an impression on Quincy Roche, the only outside linebacker selected by the Steelers in this year's draft.
Ingram also brings with him a desire to make it to pro football's summit after coming up short during his run with the Chargers. That demeanor is embraced by Watt, who has not been shy about his championship ambitions.
"He's a great guy and a great player," Watt said. "I am excited to have him here. I am excited to have more depth, have a guy like Melvin in our rotation, in our room. A guy that I've watched a lot of over the years. A guy that I can learn a lot from too. Excited to have more depth, excited for our team."