Now in 'place I felt like I could call home,' optimistic Melvin Ingram energized with Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- At 32 years old with nine NFL seasons under his belt, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is a seasoned veteran.

But entering his next chapter with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ingram said he feels like he's just getting started.

"I feel 18," Ingram said. "I'm a kid. I've still got a lot left in me. I love football and my body feels great.

"Had an injury last year, but that's a part of the game. It's a physical sport. Right now I'm 100, 200 percent healthy. I feel amazing."

Following a lingering knee injury that kept him sidelined for more than half the 2020 season, Ingram became a free agent when the Los Angeles Chargers let his four-year, $64-million deal expire. He put together his best season in 2017 with 10.5 sacks and a defensive touchdown, finishing his Chargers career with a total of 49 sacks, 7 fumble recoveries, 360 combined tackles and 108 quarterback hits.

"That has no motivation for me," Ingram said of his departure from Los Angeles. "It's a business. I understand the business. I'm not a person that gets salty about it. They changed my life. Nine years ago, they changed my life. Ten years ago, they changed my life. That's no motivation for me. Me, waking up and doing my work every day is all the motivation. I've got two kids and a family. My family, my girl, my kids, that's what motivates me."

After an offseason rehabilitating his knee, working out and visiting teams, Ingram opted to sign a one-year, prove-it deal with the Steelers -- an organization that prides itself on a strong pass rush and has led the league in sacks the last four seasons.

"I just felt like the program, the coaches, the team, everybody," Ingram said, "it was a place I felt like I could call home, a place I can come in and fit in. Everything was amazing here, down to the coaches, the players, the city, just how they do everything. They welcomed me with open arms."

To mark his new start with the Steelers, Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler, chose a new jersey number, donning No. 8.

"This is a new place for me," Ingram said. "New place, new start. Still the same me though. First time I ever played football, my number was 44 -- 4 plus 4 is 8, and Kobe [Bryant] is one of my favorite athletes. Kobe year."

Ingram said the Steelers didn't discuss their specific plans for his role in the defense, but defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he knew the outside linebackers needed the depth for a three-man rotation similar to the one used last year with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Bud Dupree.

Ingram was listed as Highsmith's backup at right outside linebacker in the Steelers' initial depth chart released Saturday.

"You always want to have three guys that can play," Butler said. "We did last year. Alex came in and did a good job filling that role when Bud was here. So, we played all three of them quite a bit. We think we've got three now that are gonna be capable of playing for us. So, we can rest each other.

"It's very difficult to sit two outside linebackers out and let them play the entire game when they're wrestling with guys that weight 300 pounds. You ever wrestled a 300-pounder? Those suckers are strong. You get tired doing that, you know what I mean?"

Ingram has primarily played opposite of Highsmith during team periods in the opening days of the Steelers' training camp, while Watt participates only in individual drills. Watt got to know Ingram through playing together in the Pro Bowl and through his brother Derek Watt during the fullback's stint with the Chargers.

"He's just a player that has a lot of burst off the line of scrimmage," Watt said of Ingram. "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."