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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A look at the Steelers Part IV

Today, we'll take a look at the Steelers' linebackers, a group that includes plenty of depth inside and not so much on the outside.

At inside linebacker, the Steelers have a wealth of riches.

Lawrence Timmons is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and has become one of the team leaders.

He heads a group that includes Ryan Shazier, the team's first-round draft pick in 2014, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Terrance Garvin and Jordan Zumwalt.

That's six bodies for two starting spots, which Timmons and Shazier figure to hold down in 2015.

Shazier's rookie season was marred by knee and ankle injuries, but the rookie will be counted on to become more of a prominent player in 2015.

The team was upset that it took him so long to recover from getting nicked up - especially with the knee injury - but that allowed Williams - the starter in 2013 - and Spence to show that they were capable players, as well.

Williams is an old-school thumper in the middle. In fact, if the Steelers were looking to deal one of their inside linebackers later this month, he would be the player I'd shop. He's a starter-quality player.

Spence made a miraculous recovery from a knee injury suffered in his rookie season and, in his third season, showed that he can at least be a capable backup. One only wonders where his career would be now had he not completely ripped his knee up?

The Steelers really like Garvin's coverage ability and he's good on special teams. They've also toyed with him on the outside a little bit, but just as when they moved Timmons to the outside in emergency situations a few years back, that's a last resort kind of thing.

Zumwalt, who spent the 2014 season on injured reserve, also practiced on the outside at times, but it's a bit much to ask a guy to play both and be effective. Inside linebackers might have the size to play outside, particularly against the run, but they lack pass rush ability.

That's why the Steelers have always preferred to convert college defensive ends into outside linebackers.

One player they didn't have to do what with was Jarvis Jones. The 2013 first-round draft pick had two sacks in the Steelers' first three games, but suffered a dislocated wrist at Carolina while making the second one.

That cost him nine games as he rehabbed his way back from the injury. When he returned, he was basically the backup to James Harrison - signed when Jones was injured - on the right side.

Jones needs to continue to get stronger, but he had shown some signs early of being able to use hand placement to beat offensive tackles.

Harrison was re-signed in the offseason after recording 45 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2014. But he'll turn 37 next month and the team doesn't want him to be a full-time player in 2015. But he brings a locker room presence and remains a very strong pass rusher.

Harrison also worked out with a number of the Steelers' linebackers this offseason in Arizona, including Shazier, Williams, Spence and Jones, showing the youngsters the ins and outs of how to be a pro.

Arthur Moats also was brought back and is penciled in as the starter on the left side right now. The team moved him back over there when Jones returned and he'll replace Jason Worilds - at least for now.

Moats had 23 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles in his first season with the Steelers after coming over as a free agent from Buffalo. And the 27-year-old still has some upside as he spends his second season in the 3-4.

But the Steelers need to find somebody to push or supplant him in the long term.

Howard Jones hung around on the practice squad last season, but to be honest, I never noticed him much in practice. That's mainly the result of the fact the practice squad guys are running scout team stuff and there's no real contact, but he needs to take a step forward.

Former CFL player Shawn Lemon was signed in the offseason following a 13-sack season in 2014. But in his previous three CFL seasons, he had nine total sacks, so the jury is out on him. The Steelers won't count on him in 2015 but will be pleasantly surprised if he shows he can make an impact.

For that reason, you can expect an edge rusher to be a high draft pick for this team. They need to add a talented young pass rusher to a group that has some guys who either have yet to show much, live up to their potential or are way on the wrong side of 30.


Rob said...

Don't you think it might be a good idea to keep Williams as your eventual replacement for Timmons, whose expensive contract will be coming to an end soon?
I kind of like the idea of a future duo of Shazier/Williams inside, their styles contrast nicely.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dale Lolley said...

Timmons isn't going anywhere. I saw that speculation from one of the bloggers trying to generate hits. There's no way they're getting rid of him.

Patrick said...

Williams is the only LB they coukd trade. Timmons is too good of a player and Spence is too good of a story to let him come this far just to trade him.

Williams seems like a guy his teammates love too, so I really doubt he would get traded either. Having that much depth at ILB isn't a bad thing, especially with Spence and Williams playing well on ST.

Very loosely related, but I think WR is set too. Unless Devante Parker is a hell of a KR/PR, I think I will start jumping on the fire Colbert bandwagon if he is the pick at 22. It just doesn't make any sense.

Dale Lolley said...

No team is going to trade for Spence because A. He's undersized B. His knee was spaghetti.

Williams, as I said, is starter quality. Right now, he's probably one of their top 4, but he's stuck behind two players.

Mark said...


What do you think the Steelers will be looking for in OLB prospects this year?

It seems like most of them are categorized as run stoppers with limited rushing abilities (OO, Preston Smith), or specialty rushers that offer little to no run support (Randy Gregory, Eli Harold). Thoughts?

Rob said...

I don't think they'll get rid of him, I just think they could/should let him play out his current deal, and then replace him with Williams, rather than give an aging player a third contract.

Dale Lolley said...

Again, I don't see that happening with Timmons. He's under contract for two more years. Williams is an RFA after this season.

They're looking for an improved pass rush. They can teach a guy to play the run better. It's more difficult to find explosive pass rushers.

Qwikdoc said...

Why do you automatically assign the starting job to Shazier? He has shown nothing while Spence had a solid season coming off of his knee injury. I expect Spence to elevate his game another level this year. His knee held up over last season. He'll have had another off season to increase his strength and his confidence should reach a new level. I'm sure Shazier will get some reps IF he stays healthy but I will be surprised if he supplants Spence as the starter in 2015.

Anonymous said...

What do you think they could get for Williams?

Qwikdoc said...

Don't trade Williams. He's a very capable back up and can step into the starting lineup if there's an injury. After preseason if Shazier, Zumwalt and Garvin show they deserve reps, then see what interest there is in Williams.

Anonymous said...

Your dreaming if you don't think Shazier is the starter Quik. Spence doesn't have near the talent or potential that Shazier has, pre or post knee injury. Barring injury, Spence is a back up.

Williams is a starter capable guy but with Shazier and Timmons there, it wouldn't be any time soon. I would be fine if they could package him and a pick to move up at some point in the draft. Maybe their 2nd round pick and Williams to move up to the early 2nd round to get a guy they like?

Qwikdoc said...

You're dreaming if you think potential puts you in the starting lineup in the NFL. All Shazier has right now is potential. And that is given to him because he was a first round draft pick. He couldn't beat Spence out for the starting job last year. What has he done to lead you to believe he will do it this year?

SBK said...

@ Qwik

Shazier was the starter when they broke camp last season I can't fathom he'd take a step backwards.


Anonymous said...

Shazier had multiple injuries last year that prevented him from starting on a consistent basis. Shazier was the starter in game 1 and was back in the game on a regular basis by game 16 and the playoff game after he got over his injuries. Spence didn't beat out anyone. He shared snaps with Williams when Shazier was hurt and if he did start, he was a starter in name only. I am betting Williams may have actually logged more snaps than Spence in some of the games that Spence "started". Lets not get carried away here. Spence was a 3rd round pick for a reason. He is small for a NFL LB and now has a surgically repaired knee. Not to say that a guy can't overcome his draft position and a bad knee injury to be become a good player but Shazier is a much better player by any measurable.

Anonymous said...

Shazier lost the coaches confidence when he took his time coming back from that knee injury. Apparently they felt he could have come back sooner if he wanted to. We'll see if he can win back their confidence this year.

And oh yeah he could be alot better at getting off blocks.

marc said...

if shazier dogged it coming back from injury he's got money on his mind. stay as healthy as possible and get to the next contract - probably his agent chirping into his ear. jury is still out on whether he is an athlete playing football or a football player who is very athletic.