Ah, yes, the linebackers. The position has been the staple of the Steelers 3-4 defense for many years. When you think of Steeler football, historically you think of the defense first and within the defense you think of the linebackers. Guys like Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Kevin Green, Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter have all played the position wearing the black and gold. You need to be a special player to man that position in Pittsburgh and the team thinks they may again have a group special enough to carry the torch of honor.
Coaching the unit will be one of the all-time Steeler greats, Joey Porter. Porter has already brought an intensity and fire to this unit that would motivate anyone to get out there and make a hit. He’s chest bumping guys for big hits and riding them for their mistakes. Porter coaches like he played, with a fire and competitiveness that is unique and special. Vince Williams stated that “When we talk to him, it’s like talking to someone who’s playing with you right now”. He added how special it is to be able to learn from a guy who’s accomplished as much as Porter has at the linebacker position right here in Pittsburgh.
The team will expect a lot out of this unit, specifically being able to create the much needed turnovers the defense has lacked the past few seasons.
he Left Outside Linebacker job is officially Jason Worilds’. Worilds did leave the pre-season game vs. the Eagles with a knee injury and we’ll see how serious it is but if he’s healthy, this job is all his. He’s playing on the one year transition tag after his fantastic play last season allowed the Steelers to part ways with LaMarr Woodley. Worilds will be expected to lead the team in sacks and bring his aggressive play each and every down.
Backing up Worilds for the LOLB position will be Chris Carter. Carter is a very strong backup, capable of spelling Worilds on certain downs but he’s really not a guy the team wants starting, something they very well could be facing if Worilds is hurt for an extended period of time. If that’s the case, James Harrison is available and signing him could be a real option.
Vic So’oto is also on the team currently at the LOLB position but he’s just holding a preseason spot, he will not be retained.
The Left Inside Linebacker spot is going to be held by first round selection Ryan Shazier. Shazier can stuff the run and drop back into pass coverage; something the team doesn’t feel Vince Williams can do well enough to be the every down guy here. Shazier will certainly have a learning curve but he looks like a guy who can be impactful right away.
Vince Williams will be his backup and is very capable of starting. He played pretty well last year as a rookie and has enough upside that he could be an asset for many years to come. Still being a young guy, Williams noted “I still try to stay close to LT (Lawrence Timmons)” in order to continue to grow and learn the position.
Sean Spence and Dan Molls are also battling for spots on this roster at LILB. Molls won’t make the squad but Spence has a chance. Many people would like to see what he can bring to the table and I think he’ll be one of the last guys kept.
The Right Inside Linebacker spot will be manned by Lawrence Timmons. Timmons will need to be the leader of this young unit and of the defense in general. Timmons has quietly led the team in tackles over the past few years and is one of the best inside linebackers in the business. He’ll lead by example and he’ll get the job done. He is the most important player on the defensive side of the ball and is often overlooked because he doesn’t run his mouth or showboat. Timmons is poised to have a huge year.
Behind Timmons are 2nd year player Terence Garvin and rookie Jordan Zumwalt. While I believe both have a chance to make the team, I think it’s unlikely that they, along with Spence will make it. Someone has to be the odd man out in this rotation and right now it looks like it’s Zumwalt. Zumwalt will more than likely be retained as a practice squad player however.
At Right Outside Linebacker, Jarvis Jones is the man at the top. Jones disappointed in his rookie season and didn’t deliver what many thought he would. With Joey Porter as his coach and a year of experience under his belt, it’s time for Jones to show why he was the teams number one draft choice last season. There will be a lot of expectations on this young man and he’s got the talent to live up to them but the team doesn’t have the time to wait around. He must make strides now.
Behind Jones are Arthur Moats and rookie Howard Jones. Moats has always been serviceable and I believe he’ll make the squad. Howard Jones appears to be the odd man out here but has a shot at being a practice squad player.
Overall this unit is extremely young with the only real experienced and accomplished player being Lawrence Timmons. Despite that, this is the most important unit on the defense and they will be asked to carry the load of getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. As this unit goes, so will the Steelers season.
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com- Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.