Steelers ILB competition ramps up

LATROBE, Pa. – Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler has seen countless training camp practices. But the first padded one the Steelers had this year stood out to Butler because of its intensity and the ferocity with which the players tackled.

“When you have competition everything is better,” Butler said. “There’s a lot of competition at all of the position groups.”

That is especially true at inside linebacker where the drafting of Ryan Shazier and the continued progress of Sean Spence have given the position a whole different look.

It is too early to say the Steelers are loaded at inside linebacker since Shazier has yet to play an NFL snap. But there is enough talent at the position that the Steelers are going to have to make some tough cuts in a month.

“It’s a good problem to have and we’re not going to shy away from it,” Butler said. “We are going to do the best we can to keep the best guys.”

It will be a challenge.

The preseason games will help sort out the inside linebackers, but some NFL-caliber players aren’t going to make the team because of a numbers game.

Terence Garvin, who played 15 games as a rookie last season and isn’t eligible for the practice squad, entered camp on the cut line. The same is true of rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt.

Not coincidentally, Garvin and Zumwalt are also working at outside linebacker since versatility and the ability to contribute on special teams only helps their chances of making the 53-man roster.

The overall quality of the linebackers Butler is coaching -- this includes the outside ones as well -- is such that he said none of them is at St. Vincent College as a practice body.

“We’ve got 13 guys here,” Butler said, “and I think all of them belong at this point in camp.”